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Program pays when students learn to save

The StarPhoenix
By Janet French
October 5, 2009

Long after school has been dismissed, teens shyly gather in Nutana's school library with backpacks and notebooks in hand.

These teens, who are from high schools from across Saskatoon, will take late afternoon classes all year to learn skills that aren't always taught in school, such as opening a bank account, getting a part time job, saving money and knowledge of the province's labour laws.

Not only are they voluntarily in class after hours, but students clamour for spots in the Individual Development Account Program. If they successfully complete it, the program will give them money -- as much as $800 each.

"It helped me so much," said Arezo, a high school student who completed the IDA program last year.

On Tuesday, she shared her experience with a new crop of students. Program co-ordinator Darlene Bracken helped Arezo polish up her resume and took her around to apply for part-time jobs. She worked in a fast-food restaurant for eight months, and then brushed up her resume again and got another job in a clothing store.

Bracken says she's seen the program change people.

"(It gives them) self-confidence, actually having a savings account and realizing that they could save money -- that they were able to maintain employment and save money," she said.

"They make friends from different schools, and there's peer support in the program."

The IDA program, which started in 2003, is run by the Community First Development Fund of Saskatoon. Each year, Bracken goes from high school to high school, looking for kids who might benefit from learning about job experience and money management. This year, the program had 108 applicants. Bracken interviewed 74 students, asking them what they'd do with their savings, then whittled that group down to 34 participants. The charitable program only has the funds for 30 students a year.

The goal, once the students get a job, is to put at least $40 a month into a savings account with Affinity Credit Union. It's a special one-way account, meaning they can't take out the money once they put it in. If a student attends all 14 sessions throughout the year and keeps a good attendance record in school, the program will triple their savings of up to $400 each (leaving a successful student with as much as $1,200).

Bracken said the money comes from donations, the government and other charitable funds.

At the end of 10 months, the students can also take certificate programs such as CPR, Foodsafe or a materials safety course for free.

Last year, the program started with 35 students, and 27 completed it, receiving their matching money.

"That's very good," Bracken said.

Those who don't make it through are often struggling in their personal lives, she said, and they can try again in future years.

This year's crop of IDA students are enthused about gaining some independence.

Dennel, a 17-year-old Oskayak student, says her ambition is to save enough to get a car. Mitchell, 17, lives in a full house and wants to move out. Many of the teens say the lure of shopping for clothes, shoes and candy, or going out and partying, can quickly dwindle what's in their wallets.

"Any time you want to have some fun, you're spending money, and that's pretty hard," Mitchell says.

The students in the program are introduced to guests such as Carol Cisecki, a labour community representative for Affinity Credit Union. On Tuesday, she dispensed advice on how to open a bank account, on being credit smart and how to get their credit history.

(c) 2009 The StarPhoenix

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