Bonnie Meszaros accepts the Saving Star award from Robert Glen, state bank commissioner.

Economic honors

CEEE's Bonnie Meszaros receives Saving Star award

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2:06 p.m., Feb. 27, 2014--Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at the University of Delaware, was named a First State Saves Saving Star at a reception held Thursday, Feb. 27, at Junior Achievement in Wilmington.

Meszaros, who is also assistant professor of economics and has served in her role at the CEEE since 1974, was recognized for her advocacy, leadership and commitment to financial education for students across the state and her work and support of Bank At School.

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Gov. Jack Markell presented the awards, which include the iconic piggy bank on wheels for those who have given the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute (DFLI) the “wheels to drive programs and financial education forward in the state of Delaware.”

First State Saves is the Delaware affiliate of America Saves, which sponsors America Saves Week, a campaign celebrated nationwide during the final week in February as an opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.

The Saving Star award was created in 2008 to recognize leaders who help people in Delaware achieve financial independence, and is given to individuals who have demonstrated a longtime commitment to and advocacy for financial education in the state.

According to Ronni K. Cohen, executive director of the DFLI, with financial support from United Way and the Bank Commissioner’s Financial Literacy Education Fund, DFLI has enhanced the Saves program through the creation of “Got $avings?” which provides on-going classes and resources through the Money School on savings topics, and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drown in Debt,” a toll-free hotline with access to credit counselors.

Meszaros has a history of financial advocacy both with her involvement in the Bank At School program, and as a board member for DFLI for over seven years; she also provides leadership to programs run out of the CEEE, including Teach Children to Save Day and the Meaningful Economics competition.

The Bank At School program runs at the elementary and middle school level and brings representatives from community banks into local schools each week to accept student deposits for non-custodial, no fee savings accounts the students have set up. There are accompanying lessons that emphasize financial management and hands-on learning. 

At the high school level, banks operate branches within the schools, which are managed by bank representatives and staffed with student tellers.

Meszaros’ history with Bank At School goes back to a class she took by CEEE founding director James O’Neill in the early 1970s. It was there that she met Cohen and became a field consultant to the CEEE on projects.

She found they needed to create a support network for teachers, not just in the center but also directly in the schools. In 1992, Meszaros partnered with Cohen, a fourth grade teacher at the time, to open Delaware’s first Bank At School. And so the beginnings of the Bank At School program were born, first with the support of Wilmington Trust and the involvement of a handful of schools.

Most recently, the Delaware Bank At School program, which today involves over 80 schools and 12 banks and credit unions, was cited as a model in a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2013 white paper, “Transforming the Financial Lives of a Generation of Young Americans: Policy Recommendations for Advancing K-12 Financial Education.”

“It is really an honor to be recognized for work that I’m very passionate about and believe in,” said Meszaros, who is responsible for producing the lessons that accompany the program.

And true to her Saving Star status, Meszaros still sees work to be done.

“We’re still looking to expand the students’ ability to open accounts and for the banks to make those accounts non-custodial; this way the kids will have ownership over the accounts and the money can still be tracked,” said Meszaros of future growth areas for the program.

This year’s Savings Stars also included Connie Montaña of Bank of America, for her advocacy, leadership and commitment to financial education for all Delawareans through her board memberships and community outreach, and Kamysha Martin of Theatrical Fusion, for her leadership and commitment to financial education through the creation and production of financial education videos and stage shows.

Montaña said she was honored to be recognized with Meszaros and Martin who share her passion for empowering young people and her belief that "financial education is the key to success for children in the business that is their life.”

Previous winners include O’Neill; Judy Austin, a coordinator for the Bank At School program; and State Banking Commissioner Robert Glen.

Article by Kathryn Meier

Photos courtesy of the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute

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