When the Kickstart to Career college savings program for Thornapple Kellogg schools was announced last fall, community members and organizations started calling the Barry Community Foundation daily about how to donate funds, said Bonnie Hildreth, president of the BCF. And when an anonymous donor put up $600,000 so the fund would be permanently endowed, it brought tears to her eyes.
“I cried because this is an investment in our kids forever,” she said. “This is very, very exciting. This is a game changer for children.”
The savings program starts in the 2015-1016 school year. Each kindergartner will be given a bank account with $50 in it. Community organizations, parents, grandparents and anyone else who wants to donate to a child’s fund can do so. The money must be used for education after high school, including college, training, apprenticeships, licenses and other expenses.
The savings program, which is being run by the BCF, got started with a donation from the DeCamp Family Foundation when it agreed to put $50 into savings accounts for every kindergartner in the county as part of a pilot program. The Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation also has made a commitment for $12,000 to support the program for Thornapple Kellogg students. The group hasn’t worked out the details, but plans to make its contributions incentive-based, with money awarded for graduating from grade school, high school, good behavior or other achievements.
In addition to the initial $600,000 gift, other contributions so far total $100,000, according to Hildreth.
Hildreth isn’t surprised at the generous response. “We take care of each other,” she said of the community. “This is what happens here.”
Organizers know this program isn’t the highly touted Kalamazoo Promise, where every student who attends school for their entire 12 years is given a free college education, but its benefits will still get students in college. Research has shown students with bank accounts are more likely to attend college, even if they have less than $500 in their savings accounts, and that it starts teaching important lessons about finances. “Everything you learn in kindergarten sticks with you your whole life,” Hildreth said.
To apply, parents or guardians will simply have to provide the student’s ID number, name and address, and they’re done, Hildreth said.
Dozens of programs similar to Thornapple Kellogg’s have been started across the country, including Grand Rapids. The Community Economic Development Association of Michigan operates a pilot program that began with the Lansing Public Schools, Hildreth said. When she heard CEDAM was looking for a rural community to test it in, she immediately got Barry County involved and started looking for funding. The Doug and Margaret DeCamp Family Foundation loved the idea and stepped forward. The family wanted to “enable all kindergartners to have a savings account with the realization that secondary education was not just a dream, but a reality for all who desired,” said Doug DeCamp.
While money for college will be the main benefit, students and their families also will be getting a financial lesson, Hildreth said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to really understand and create a habit of savings,” she said, noting many families in the district have no bank accounts.