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Kids take an interest in credit union of their own

Published Oct. 1, 2005

Pennies for Power is just like most other credit unions: Its members squirrel away dollars in hope of achieving their financial aspirations.

It is the ages of its members that set this financial institution apart.

"I want something nice, maybe a Buick," said Frank Ceballos, a 12-year-old. He has $150 saved up for his eventual dream car.

Pennies for Power aims to teach its 224 members the value of a buck. It is supported by the Roman Catholic nuns of the Office for Farmworker Ministry, the Community Trust Credit Union and workers from the federal AmeriCorps program.

Backers of the nearly year-old credit union hope the venture helps children realize their financial dreams _ and the realities of finance.

The youth-run credit union is one of about a dozen nationwide and the only one in Florida, according to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.

Since opening last April, Pennies for Power has amassed $10,200 in assets from members, who are almost exclusively the children of nearby farm workers.

"Remember, these are all poor kids, so that's a lot of money," Sister Ann Kendrick said.

The average account is $45.54, although one depositor has $1,000. The minimum amount needed to open an account is $2.50, and it takes $1 to keep one active.

Technically, Pennies for Power is only a savings account division within the Community Trust Credit Union, but the children are given great freedom.

"They have their own opportunity to succeed or fail," Community Trust president Kelly Schemerhorn said.

The project has drawn the notice of social agencies, becoming a finalist for this year's Children Must Count business award given by the Orange County Citizens' Commission for Children.

Adults take an active role in advising the credit union's officers, but the children make all the decisions. Recently, the officers decided to double their hours and expand their services beyond savings accounts.

Turning control over to the children keeps the lesson alive, said Sister Cathy Gorman.

"They're not all on the honor roll in school," she said. "This keeps them animated and interested."