Getting kids off to a good start

As a part of Black History Month, Steelers.com is bringing features from those who have broken racial barriers, have opened doors for others, or what the team is doing in the community to make a difference.

This week, the spotlight is on what the team is doing in the community.

For many NFL players, understanding the ins and outs of finances in general doesn't really set in until they are selected in the NFL Draft, when teams, including the Steelers, host financial seminars for them as they suddenly are dealing with financial independence. It's an eye-opening experience, understanding for the first time the importance of things like savings accounts, credit history and more.

They are lessons many wish they were taught sooner in life, wishing they would have had a head start on understanding the importance of financial independence sooner.

Getting off to a head start, though, is something kids need now more than ever. And sadly, many kids don't have a shot at it.

Until now.

And it's thanks to the groundbreaking app, Goalsetter, and the help of others, including current and former Steelers players.

James Farrior, Will Allen, Zach Banner and Stephon Tuitt are all getting involved with Goalsetter, an app designed to help families begin to save for the future, starting with the youngest members, to put them on the path to financial freedom.

As a part of Black History Month, Steelers players are joining NBA players to help Black kids in America to receive a Goalsetter account, through a 'draft' of sorts, with the goal to one million Black kids to start saving. The program kicked off with NBA players, who then posed the 'Who's Got Next' question, which is where the Steelers stepped in.

Farrior, Allen, Banner and Tuitt are each 'drafting' 100 kids either from the Pittsburgh area, their own hometowns or areas where they are strongly connected, or in conjunction with their foundations and opening an account for them starting with $40 each, and it will be an account the kids can't touch until they are 18-years old.

"I thought it would be a good way for NFL players and the Steelers to be involved and give back to the community, and be able to teach kids about finances, something they can use for the rest of their life," said Farrior. "It's basically teaching kids about financial responsibility at an early age, and it's through an app so kids can learn and make it fun. It's a fun way for them to learn about finances and be prepared in the world for what is ahead. Financial literacy is something that is always good to have in your back pocket if you have money or don't have money. To get as many kids as possible to start thinking about finances and start learning about financial education at a young age. Just try to get kids into a good place where they can be able to take care of themselves financially and understand the ins and outs of financial responsibility and help as many kids as we can be as successful as they can be. This app is a good starting place.

"I use myself as an example. My family didn't come from money. I didn't know about finances until I came into money. If I had a better background, a better education, from growing up, it would have better prepared me for the situation I was thrust into. Not to say I did anything bad, but I probably made some decisions I regret now. You live and you learn. The earlier you can teach kids about these things now, the more they will be able to be successful.

"And this program is geared toward helping minority kids and kids of color. I thought it was a great idea and a way to help kids out."

The draw of helping kids was natural for the players, who have been in their shoes, not understanding the importance of saving money, and not even having money at their disposal to save growing up.

"Financial literacy is key for children because if a child can understand it and grow and know the formulas that come with it, people won't take advantage of them," said Tuitt. "For them not to have that at an early age, there is a lot of catching up to do. For there to be an app where children can understand how to save, for people to be able to donate to, so they can build a portfolio, it shows them and gives them the courage at a young age to know they can do this. Then when they get to an age where they have bills and should have investments and families, they have the chance to be a mentor for others and can have a life where they are comfortable with where their money is going, how it's working for them, how they can make it grow. I was blessed to have trustworthy people on my side when I got into the NFL to help me with my money and know where it is going.

"It is a roadway to have a successful life. If a kid can learn it at a young age, they will be more successful because they have a head start. If I had that knowledge there would be things I would have by now and would have grown. If I started from the beginning, when I got in the NFL I would be further along than I would have been."

The idea behind the app came from Tanya Van Court, who after a career working for companies such as Nickeloden, Discovery Education and ESPN-3, wanted to do something to provide financial literacy for kids as they try to attain the American dream after her own child told her for her ninth birthday she wanted a bike and enough money to save for an investment account.

"I see in our country the haves and have nots," said Van Court. "I see the huge lack of financial literacy for all kids, but particularly Black and Brown kids. If we don't reverse it and create a society where every kid learns how to save early, we are going to continue to have a fractured society and I really want to change that.

"It's all about access. There are kids who can't afford to have savings accounts, but the ones that do are six times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to own stock by the time they are young adults. They all deserve to have a savings account. It's gratifying the players are saying they are going to start them for kids who can't. When the players sponsor the kids, they are doing more than sponsoring kids, they are teaching their followers that for people who can afford it, get the app and teach them financial literacy."

Van Court wanted to reach out to sports figures to help, because of their place in the social justice movement over the past year. And to have the Steelers on board is something she hopes introduces the idea of helping other young children.

"Everything the Steelers stand for are the people," said Van Court. "They stood for the people of Pittsburgh and all of the people for so long. I wanted to be connected to organizations who care about all people.

"One of the reasons I was also so excited about the Steelers players is because of Daniel Rooney and the Rooney Rule, and how groundbreaking the Steelers leadership has been not just in sports, but in the world. It's an example of how sports changes society, how the Rooney Rule was applied to coaches and teams, but then applied to executives and corporations, and how the Steelers were at the forefront of that monumental change in society.

"It is really humbling they are taking part. It almost brings me to tears. A movement is not made by one person alone. We need their support. The players who have raised their hand and said we want to be a part of it, are beloved by Steelers fans. That means there are millions of people they can touch, that I can never touch on my own. I am grateful they believe in what we are doing. Not only are they starting the kids accounts."

Through the app, kids K-12 are introduced to financial literacy courses, where they make the learning journey a fun one using social media and popular culture as learning tools. Weekly quizzes also are utilized as a way for the kids to add additional savings to their accounts, with small deposits being made by family members to existing accounts.

"There are a lot of tech services that have been in the market addressing the disparities with Black and Brown populations," said Allen. "What is unique about this company is it is extremely relatable to young kids. It's allows them to explore the financial industry without it being boring or lame. And it's family friendly. When you get the family involved, you work on milestones and create a community in the family around finances.

"Being a professional athlete, many of us come from lower income communities where our families don't have a lot or don't understand how to save. We're typically taken advantage of from credit card companies and pay day lending companies. We don't understand how the system works. I wish I would have had it younger. I would have done more saving and investing sooner with an understanding of the system."

Banner said he began his introduction to what financial resources were available while attending the University of Southern California and when he entered the NFL. But he knows not everyone has that opportunity even when they reach that age, so the earlier they can start kids on the right path, the better.

"This app changes that," said Banner. "It allows people at a very young age how to learn about financial literacy, how to save, and it's very important. Building credit, saving, the difference between checking and savings accounts, the basic things people take for granted. Those educational resources aren't always available. Now they are.

"It gives a sense of belonging. We want to focus on the inner-city urban communities that don't have those resources. Black History Month is a time of year when there is a spotlight on a very powerful group of people who need to feel empowered. It's our job as Black men and women, who are in positions we are in, to put those in need on a pedestal before ourselves.

"It's so easy, with the amount of money we get in the NFL, to give back. I would rather spend my money doing things like this than anything else. I am smart, but I don't think about it. I feel warm inside when I see the reaction on the face of the kids we help. It's straight from the heart and I really mean that."

Farrior said it's their responsibility to give to the community, especially when it comes to kids who look up to NFL players.

"It's humbling to be in a position to help others," said Farrior. "It's something I always tried to do knowing I have been fortunate. To be able to give back to underserved kids is something I always wanted to do, had a passion to do. This is another vehicle to do that.

"We know we are role models. We know kids will follow us and take our lead. We have that responsibility. Even if we don't want it, we have it. It's up to us to show those kids there will always be a way to better your circumstances and we are here to help you do it."

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