Durham News

College savings program launched at Durham elementary school

Kindergartner Romeo Kennan, 5, and his guardian Taneesha Williams attend a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, on Durham Kids Save, which will provide matching funds to savings accounts for Y.E. Smith Elementary students.
Kindergartner Romeo Kennan, 5, and his guardian Taneesha Williams attend a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, on Durham Kids Save, which will provide matching funds to savings accounts for Y.E. Smith Elementary students. vbridges@newsobserver.com

When Romeo Kenan grows up he wants to be a policeman, a fireman, a tow-truck driver and a race car driver, he said.

Basically, “anything that lets him drive a vehicle,” said Taneeshi Williams, the guardian of 5-year-old Romeo, who is a kindergartner at Y.E. Smith Elementary.

Regardless of his career path, Romeo will have a little help making his hopes a reality as one about 75 kindergartners at the school who can participate in an education savings programs that begins this year.

After parents opt into the program, $100 will be deposited into an education savings account under a program called Durham Kids Save.

The program will then match every dollar put into the account each year, up to $100, through the fifth grade. Families who deposit at least $100 a year will have at least $1,300 that can go to a secondary education or college.

While the money may not be enough to pay most college expenses, the goal is to promote the habit of saving and increase the odds of more kids seeking post-secondary education, organizers said.

The data says kids who save will be more likely to attend college, said David Reese, president and CEO of the East Durham Children’s Initiative, which is providing services to families in a 120-block area of East Durham to help kids graduate from high school ready for college or a career.

“This is a leg up,” Reese said. “This is a step forward.”

Tigers Save

Durham Kids Saves grew out of Mayor Bill Bell’s poverty reduction initiative, which is working to improve the quality of life within two block groups in a high poverty census tract.

The savings account idea came from the financial task force, co-chaired by City Council members Steve Schewel and Cora Cole-McFadden, and could eventually be offered citywide.

This year Durham Kids Save is offered to Y.E. Smith kindergartners as Tigers Save. Next year, it will be offered to kindergartners and first-graders. It will then be expanded a grade each year.

Organizers want to expand the program to other schools in future years, said Carl Rist, director of Children’s Savings at the Corporation For Enterprise Development. CFED is a Washington-based nonprofit organization, with an office in Durham, that focuses on economic opportunity and asset building for low- and moderate-income families.

CFED has also played an advisory role in setting up larger scale programs, such one in San Francisco, where every public school student entering kindergartner gets a savings account.

Private funding

Initial funding for the Durham Kids Save program was raised through CFED’s 1:1 Fund, a crowdfunding tool for the savings account initiative.

On Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, about 150 donors gave more than $20,000 for the Durham accounts, Rist said. That funding was matched by national organizations, such as the Prudential Foundation, resulting in the effort raising a total of $60,000.

Other Durham Kids Save partners include Self-Help Credit Union, the custodian of the accounts; EDCI; Durham Public Schools and others.

On Tuesday night about 30 organizers, parents and children, gathered in the library at Y.E. Smith and learned how the program would work.

“The reason we are here is to help you get your children to college,” Schewel told them.

Two parents made their first deposit, said Amber Wade, operations and financial services manager at EDCI.

Parents will be able to make deposits during the school year every other Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The program also includes incentives for participants, such as a $25 gift cards given out each month and a grand cash prize for one at the end of the year that will be deposited in their account, Wade said. During the summer, deposits can be made by dropping off funds at EDCI.

Williams, Romeo’s guardian, said she was relieved when she learned about the program.

“I want him to go to college,” she said, but “I was thinking to myself, ‘How am I am going to get him there?’”

Lashanda Bizzell said she had similar concerns.

As a single mother of two, including 5-year-old kindergartner Kristian Frederick, her options for paying for college as worker at a group home were limited.

“My plan was for her to get a scholarship,” Bizzell, 27, said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

To donate

A child from a low or moderate-income family with savings of $1 to $499 before reaching college age is more than three times more likely to enroll in college, and one with $500 or more is about five times more likely to graduate from college than a child with without a savings account.

Donations can be made to Durham Kids Save http://bit.ly/DurhamKidsSave