January 1, 2013

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A Smart Investment

Businesses Focus Charitable Giving on Filling Education Gaps

Peri Kinder

January 1, 2013

In 1996, Miller established the Larry H. Miller Education Foundation, which provides a scholarship program for the children of his employees. The child of any full-time employee, working for at least two years, can apply for a scholarship valued up to $5,000 per semester, plus $300 for books. The offer is good for two semesters each year for up to four years (as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA), and even continues if the student gets married, as long as they continue their education without a break.

“It was something Larry wanted to do so he set some money aside,” says Jay Francis, executive vice president, LHM Group. “He never took advantage of a college education, but he felt this was a great way to support education, which he valued highly.”

Although the program started off slow, nearly 300 students took advantage of the scholarship program in 2012.

But it’s not just students who can benefit from a company’s generosity. Teachers involved in the Driven 2 Teach program, sponsored by the LHM Group and Zions Bank, get the opportunity to experience history where it happened, and learn to teach history in an inspirational and passionate way.

Five years ago, Miller had a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, who expressed his fear about the lack of history education taking place in public schools. Miller took that conversation to heart and started the Drive 2 Teach program, where history teachers can apply to take an all-expense-paid tour through history.

Three or four times a year, 30 to 40 teachers participate in a week-long seminar that includes tours of Boston, Philadelphia or Santa Fe, or an adventure along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

“It’s an incredible experience because a lot of these teachers have never been to these places,” says Steve Starks, executive vice president, LHM Group. “There’s something about seeing things and smelling the smells that is irreplaceable. Larry felt if students understood the freedoms and opportunities this country provides, and the values required to maintain these opportunities, it would help preserve our nation where people can fulfill their dreams.”

The Bottom Line
Several institutions in the state have crafted financial literacy programs to help students understand the basic concepts of credit, debt, budgets and savings. Mountain America Credit Union, for example, takes its “8 Pillars of Financial Greatness” program into Utah schools to address the lack of financial understanding facing students nationwide. Many people are shocked to learn that today’s 20-year-olds have an average debt of $45,000 that includes student loans, mortgages, car payments and credit card bills.

“Many of our branch managers go into Utah schools to teach students about financial literacy,” says Sterling Nielsen, president and CEO of MACU. “A lot of it needs to take place in the home. Our kids tend to follow our example, so we give parents resources so they can teach their children good financial habits.”

To combat fiscal illiteracy, the Utah Bankers Association hosted a Get Smart About Credit month in October 2012 to teach 2,500 high school students the value of using proper credit and staying out of debt. The UBA’s Teach Children to Save initiative reaches out to junior high and elementary students, helping them start a savings plan.

“Financial education helps put things in perspective,” says Craig Roper, vice chair of the UBA. “We need to teach students how to discern between needs and wants, and how much things cost.”

National studies show the majority of teens test poorly when it comes to financial awareness and responsibility, so financial institutions are jumping into the fray to help educate students who will soon be tomorrow’s business executives.

More Utah companies are taking a leading role when it comes to creating educational programs, events, fundraisers and teacher support. Business leaders involved in scholastic programs consider it an investment that will pay off when educated students graduate from college and take their place serving on boards, committees and foundations.

“We want great customers for us in the future,” Roper says. “It’s not about what you have but what you create, so we want to make sure we’re part of the solution and bring value to the community. If we can’t be a good partner in the community, then shame on us.”  

On March 22, 2013, the Community Foundation of Utah will hold a Love Utah Give Utah event that will encourage people across the state to donate online. Every nonprofit can participate, earning money for their programs. This one-day, web-based donation project has been highly successful in other states, bringing in millions of dollars. “Residents can learn about the critical issues facing the state and be inspired to contribute,” Executive Director Fraser Nelson says.

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