Rick Fong, center, outlines the basics of a credit
score to students at James Madison Academic Campus
in Milwaukee, while Principal Gregory Ogunbowale
observes. Fong and his wife, Stephanie, live and
work in Brookfield, and both volunteer to teach
financial literacy at schools in Milwaukee and
Waukesha through the nonprofit Make A Difference -
Photo courtesy of Peter DiAntoni
TOWN OF BROOKFIELD - While educating
adults on how money works, Stephanie Fong realized just
how little is taught about personal finance in school,
such as the importance of understanding compound
interest, saving money early and debt.
When she and her husband Rick, both of Primerica
Financial Services, learned of Make A Difference - Wisconsin, a
nonprofit organization that provides teenagers financial
literacy educational resources and real-world lessons, they
decided to volunteer their time.
“I had to put my efforts where my mouth is at,”
Fong, a Town of Brookfield resident, said. She has taught the
Make A Difference - Wisconsin program at Martin Luther High
School, Pius and University School of Milwaukee. Her husband and
other Primerica Financial Services employees have volunteered
their time at Waukesha North, Waukesha South and Kettle Moraine
Brenda Campbell, CEO of Make A Difference -
Wisconsin, said the organization, founded in 2006, provides
programming and resources to empower teens to make sound
The programs are delivered by volunteers from the
business community. Before they enter the classroom, Campbell
said, each person is trained and matched with a class. The goal
is that the 17- and 18-year-olds they predominantly work with
will graduate from high school with basic personal finance
Jessica Fritz, left,
chief financial officer of Ridgestone Bank in
Brookfield, leads a November lesson on building a
personal budget with students from Milwaukee’s
Carmen High School of Science and Technology -
Northwest Campus. Fritz and colleagues at Ridgestone
are financial literacy volunteers for Make A
Difference - Wisconsin, a nonprofit which is
expanding its reach to students in Waukesha County
and elsewhere in the state.
Photo courtesy of Fred
'It’s truly the basics’
“It’s understanding how to budget and save.
Understanding what comes out of your paycheck and how compound
interest works,” Campbell said. Other topics include how to open
and maintain a bank account, understanding identity theft, the
predatory nature of checking stores, and how to properly use a
credit card and its pitfalls.
Campbell wants students to think about the long
term so even credit scores are discussed, including how they are
calculated, how to build one and why it even matters.
“It’s truly the basics,” Campbell said. “It’s at
least what every kid should get to hit the ground running after
Make A Difference - Wisconsin has proven to be
Campbell said post-program tests show that on
average at all partner schools, the teens increase their
financial literacy by about 33 percent.
Studies have shown that parents won’t necessarily
instill these values in their children and the schools often
don’t have financial literacy classes.
Campbell said one survey from Charles Schwab
indicated parents were more comfortable talking about drugs and
sex with their children than money.
Make A Difference - Wisconsin partners with
private and public schools in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties,
as well as schools in Ozaukee, Kimberly and Eagle River, and
even student groups.
Stacy Leuty, a volunteer from Elm Grove, said she
had always wanted to be a high school math teacher but ended up
becoming an accountant. When she learned about Make A Difference
- Wisconsin, she saw a great opportunity. Leuty became a
volunteer with the organization about eight years ago, right
when it started. Since then she has taught in both inner-city
and suburban schools.
“It has really opened my eyes to when I am in the
inner city and lot of the kids are the product of their
upbringing. They don’t stand a chance if no one works with
them,” Leuty said.
While students may not need all the math they
learned since kindergarten, when they graduate from high school
they need to know how to properly handle their finances, she
“What I strive to do is to make them believe in
themselves and really motivate them to take interest in their
finances,” Leuty said. She estimated that 90 percent of what
Make A Difference - Wisconsin teaches can be implemented in
everyday activities of the teen’s life.
Fong, who also implements Make A Difference -
Wisconsin’s Money Coach programming, said that program takes an
even more hands-on approach with the students. She said her
students have told her about how they applied the knowledge they
learned in the finance classes to everyday life and even helped
their family members make better decisions.
While Make A Difference - Wisconsin is operated
out of Milwaukee, it has grown its presence in Waukesha County
during the past five years.
“Waukesha County has really taken a lead in
enhancing the financial literacy of their kids,” Campbell said.
“This is an issue that really relates to everyone. It’s across
the board. It’s all population, all income levels.”
At a glance
To learn how educators or volunteers can participate, go to
call 414-273-8101 or email