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Brilliant Beginnings teaches students to save

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Darby Brilliant Beginnings is a kindergarten-to-career savings program that launches 6 p.m. today in the Darby school cafeteria.

Darby Brilliant Beginnings is a nonprofit organization under Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development that has been in the development phase for a year. It has secured enough money to provide 30 kindergartners with $100 for their individual career savings accounts. The money has come from private and corporate donations – the Bitterroot Community Federal Credit Union donated $1,500, Darby Schools Excellence Fund contributed $3,000 and Walmart provided a $1,000 grant. Additional money came from Alpine Realty and individual donors.

Kate Duggan is the director of the program.

“We want to open doors for kids that may not have the opportunity to consider college, and we want to reduce financial exclusion,” Duggan said. “We plan to increase financial literacy through workshops and resources, and we also want to build community support for our collective future.”

Duggan said lives are changed and communities are transformed when students start planning their careers and saving for their education at an early age.

“The main thing is creating the mindset at a younger age – they believe in themselves,” Duggan said. “We want families to prepare for college and have career savings.”

Wednesday is a free dinner and an introductory meeting for families. They will receive welcome packets with the forms needed to create the accounts.

“The kids will receive relevant financial education – basically, coloring books with age-appropriate financial information,” Duggan said. “They will also receive little piggy banks that help them visualize the $100 seed money. We chose a local bank so they can walk into a bank and understand that they have money there. That’s nice because most banking is done electronically and we lose that visualization.”

The deposit-only accounts will help kindergarten students save for college, trade school, professional development or an entrepreneurial plan. The money builds for 12 years, then students can access the money by graduating high school and having a plan for further education or a career. The program provides a curriculum for children on how to save consistently and often for their future, and it also provides workshops for parents and caregivers on how to help their child succeed.

“We want to create a culture of college-going, but we know college isn’t for everyone. So, we provide that if they want to go to trade school or start a business, there is flexibility,” Duggan said. “If they are going to school a check will be cut to the school.”

Along the way there will be more opportunities to build the account balances. One way is to attend the financial literacy workshops that are offered with financial incentives. Another way is for families to add to the account as they can.

Duggan said the impetus for the program was hearing a story on public radio.

“San Francisco does this in the city, and the city provides the accounts – it’s on a much bigger scale,” Duggan said. “But they have real data that shows the success of the program which is that, regardless of family income, if children have an account they are six times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate. Just having the account is nearly a guarantee that they will have success.”

Kathy Transue works at the Bitterroot Community Federal Credit Union and is excited to be part of the Darby Brilliant Beginnings program.

“Just think about all the kindergartners and going forward. If we can provide this for all kindergartners it will be great for Darby,” said Transue. “I think it is going to be fabulous.”

Chris Toynbee, principal of kindergarten through seventh grade at Darby, said the Darby Brilliant Beginnings program is awesome.

“It’s a nice idea that started small and has grown,” said Toynbee. “It will be a unique opportunity for our young students and a good learning opportunity for them as they get older too. Also, we plan to do this for all kindergartners each year.”

Toynbee said some of the money is from the Darby School Excellence Fund that is raised in the summer and dedicated to deserving projects.

“It’s a process to show we are serious about education,” Toynbee said. “It is lifelong and never stops.”

Darby Brilliant Beginnings is a pilot program this year. Duggan said the organizers are hopeful that other communities will be encouraged to implement a similar program.

“It’s so exciting,” Duggan said. “It has been building for a year and this kick-off is wonderful. It is great to have it real.”

For more information or to make a donation, go to the website darbybrilliantbeginnings.org or email info@darbybrilliantbeginning.org.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.

Copyright 2015 Ravalli Republic. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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