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‘It’s not a game of luck’: Orange County kids learn tricks of the stock market trade

Alejandro Bonilla, 11,
Alejandro Bonilla, 11, left, receives a check for $500 from Dylan Jin-Ngo, the founder of Youth Investors Corp., during an awards ceremony at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The stock market takes skill, and Huntington Beach resident Dylan Jin-Ngo, 16, has been able to illustrate that through his Youth Investors Corp.

Dylan started the nonprofit company in 2019 to try to educate local youth on stock trading. Last summer, he started a Zoom program complete with a stock market simulation game for kids aged 10 to 13 at a branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley.

Dylan, a junior boarding school student at the Thacher School of Ojai, expanded the program for the second five-week session that ran through mid-December. All three Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley branches participated, as did the Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Santa Ana branches of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast.

Among the more than 70 participants the same kid, Cash Harmon, won twice, earning $500 as the leader in each session.

Affirm Holdings Inc. almost doubled in its public market debut, the latest multibillion-dollar technology company to start trading significantly higher than its initial public offering price.

“A lot of people ask me if the stock market is a game of luck, and he really proves [it isn’t],” Dylan said. “To be able to do that, it really shows that knowledge is really important. It’s not a game of gambling. It’s not a game of luck … He knows his material well.”

Cash, a sixth-grader at Dwyer Middle School in Huntington Beach, was honored at an awards ceremony Wednesday, as was second-place finisher Alejandro Bonilla, 11, of Santa Ana, who also received a $500 check.

Rocio and Juan Bonilla embrace their son Alejandro, 11, after he received a check for $500 on Wednesday.
Rocio and Juan Bonilla embrace their son, Alejandro, 11, after he received a $500 check from Youth Investors Corp.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Alejandro got his check in person from Dylan at the Santa Ana branch, while kids from the other branches watched virtually via Zoom. Dylan said a $250 check was also awarded to the Huntington Valley Boys & Girls Club branch on Delaware Street.

Dylan said he modified the program a bit the second time around, to be able to better keep the kids’ attention. The Zoom sessions ran twice a week for about 45 minutes after school.

“Learning about interest rates is something that can be pretty tedious,” he said. “We really emphasized more about the interaction part. We rebuilt our course, updated it to make sure the kids were engaged, asking a lot of questions, talking more. We incorporated a lot of games, so they could interact with everyone else.”

Amber Plummer, director of learning and innovation for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, said the program was a success for her three branches. She was enthusiastic after Dylan approached her with the idea last October.

“It’s nice to have guest speakers or guest presenters come in,” Plummer said. “That was a big piece of it. The other piece of it that was so great was the hands-on piece. Not only were they learning the terms and the theory of trading and the stock market, but then they were actually able to go out and do it themselves. As we heard from Alejandro, he had some tough lessons learned where he lost a good chunk of money, but then he was able to gain it back. There’s no better way to learn than to learn by doing.”

Alejandro switched to trading biopharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer in the final week of the online stock market competition, Dylan said, which helped him nab a second-place spot.

Alejandro’s father, Juan, said his son was consistently engaged by the stock market game.

“It became a passion,” Juan Bonilla said. “Actually, the better way to put it is that it became an obsession. I had to stop him many times, like, ‘Come on, you’ve got to eat dinner.’ He just wanted to pursue it.”

Dylan said he plans to run the next session of the program this summer, and hopes to expand it into the Los Angeles area.

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