Grantor: Bill Daniels
Grantee: Young Americans Bank and Education Foundation
Amount: $6.9 million (since 1987)
Schoolchildren love to ask their teachers, “How am I ever going to use this in real life?” and “Why do we have to learn this?” as they struggle with algebra and social studies. These questions probably seem justified, especially since when children do express an interest in applying these concepts to their lives—by experimenting with the free market and democracy, for example—there are few opportunities available to them.
Denver-based cable TV entrepreneur Bill Daniels became aware of this problem, and it bothered him. In 1984, Daniels read a newspaper article about a fifth-grade class that couldn’t get financing for an entrepreneurial venture. Realizing the importance of teaching children about the free enterprise system, Daniels decided to open a bank for children. In 1987, thanks to his efforts, the Young Americans Bank opened in Denver.
To date, the bank has served nearly 40,000 customers, and maintains more than 16,000 active accounts. The institution only accepts customers under the age of 22, making it the world’s only state-chartered, FDIC-insured commercial bank for young people. It offers a full range of financial services, including savings and checking accounts, CDs, loans, credit cards, and ATM cards.
Yet what sets the Young Americans Bank apart from traditional banks is its focus on educating its customers. Through their hands-on experiences with actual financial products and services, the young people who invest at the Young Americans Bank learn the proper use of bank services and the meaning of personal financial responsibility. The bank’s staff provide the institution’s young patrons with supplemental materials and careful guidance to ensure that they thoroughly understand their financial decisions.
The bank’s allied Young Americans Bank and Education Foundation sponsors a program called Young AmeriTowne, a life-sized model town for young people. Open since 1990, Young AmeriTowne is a hands-on exercise in both democracy and the free market. The town has a town hall, a medical center, a community college, a bank, a food store, and a construction company. To date, Young AmeriTowne has hosted more than 12,000 participants, who have learned to run businesses, interview for jobs, open bank accounts, run for mayor, shop for groceries, and even arrest law-breakers.
As with the bank, education is a vital component of AmeriTowne. Not only do youngsters participate in a free market economic system as producers and consumers, but they learn about supply and demand and the fundamentals of economic theory. Through programs with local schools and week-long summer camp programs, AmeriTowne kids take part in workshops and activities to learn about the American banking and economic system.
Both the Young Americans Bank and Young AmeriTowne teach children about banking, the free market, and democracy in terms they can understand—with almost no one asking “How am I ever going to use this?”