Making money matters count

COSTA MESA — Former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin paid a surprise visit on Thursday to a Costa Mesa summer school class to talk to young entrepreneurs about one thing that she knows best: money management.

More than 30 would-be businesswomen are participating in Girls Inc.'s Youth Empowerment and Self Sufficiency (YESS) summer program, where skills such as managing a checking account, paying rent, and even how to apply for a business license are covered in an interactive setting.

"This is literally a life-changing program," said Marin, who served under President George W. Bush from 2001-03. "These girls are becoming aware of the financial system at an early age, and they won't fall prey to the people who take advantage of others who are without the same knowledge."

In an age where 73% of young adults lack basic financial literacy, according to a 2010 study by the Journal of Economic Affairs, the 9- to 11-year-old students participating in the Westside charity's program may know more about balancing their checkbooks than their parents.

"At first, we didn't know if the girls would get the concepts that we cover," program facilitator Nathan Roa said. "It was a long process, fine tuning the language into their vocabulary so that they would understand."

Over 16 weeks, the YESS students create résumés, interview for imaginary employment positions, decipher advertising, learn to price items to make a profit, and learn other financial literacy skills as they create mock businesses.

"You wouldn't think that they would get it, but they really do," Roa said.

On Thursday morning, the girls were learning how to balance imaginary banking accounts, using play money, and the importance of saving.

"If you remember one thing I say to you today, no matter what you make, save 15%," Marin told the class.

Marin stressed the importance of being financially prepared for unexpected situations, doing well in school, and pursuing dream careers.

Girls Inc. had more than 4,600 girls in 2009 go through its many summer and year-round programs, said Director of Volunteer Services Orleda Azevedo.

"Our programs are designed to prepare girls for their future," Azevedo said. "I have actually seen girls grow up through the programs and come back after graduating college because now they want to give back to the community."

The nonprofit organization has resources that in many schools are in short supply, such as a computer learning lab. Program fees are adjusted on a sliding scale in accordance with family income.

"This program is totally unique," Roa said. "We're just trying to get the word out to people that there is a business program out there for children, and it is successful."

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