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Nusenda Foundation Announces Latest Financial Education Innovator Awardee

Feb 02, 2021

Cruces Kids Can

The Nusenda Foundation announced today that April Christensen, founder and program manager of the Kids Can youth entrepreneurship initiative based out of the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico (CAASNM) in Las Cruces, has been named Nusenda Credit Union and the Nusenda Foundation’s most recent Financial Education Innovator.

“For almost two years, Nusenda Credit Union and Nusenda Foundation have showcased New Mexicans who aim to increase economic mobility in their communities with innovative strategies to improve financial well-being,” said Nusenda’s Vice President of Community Relations Sara Keller. “April’s mission to help her dyslexic son embrace learning transformed into a program that teaches thousands of at-risk youth in southern New Mexico valuable skills in money management, business development, entrepreneurship, and financial responsibility.”

A strong financial education has been shown to have a positive effect on the economic well-being of individuals and their families; and also predicts future healthy behaviors around savings, credit card usage, spending, and risk. This is especially important in New Mexico — Prosperity Now, a national, public policy organization in 2018 ranked the state 50th in income poverty and 46th in the number of households who don’t use traditional financial institutions, such as a bank or credit union. The Nusenda Foundation recognizes Financial Education Innovators who are working to buck these trends on a quarterly basis; nominees are accepted year-round and can be from diverse backgrounds, such as community organizations, nonprofits, and education and government sectors across New Mexico. Awardees receive $5,000 in funding from Nusenda Foundation to help develop or grow their initiatives.

Christensen comes from an entrepreneurial family — her father owned several businesses in northern California, which helped her develop a sense of community, and helped her become a problem solver. When her son was diagnosed with dyslexia, she started looking for options to help in his education.

“He’s so successful and intelligent, but I saw him struggling in school because he learns differently,” she said. “I saw on Facebook a school in Dallas that held a fair with 100 kids who owned their own businesses. It was an epiphany — he really thrives in this arena, and I was 100% sure this was something I needed to do.”

Christensen took her idea to CAASNM CEO Dawn Z. Hommer, whose organization provides services to at-risk children and families across five counties in southern New Mexico. It is now part of the organization’s pillars of service, which aim to creative thriving, equitable communities.

“Dawn’s support helped this program to really flourish by providing support and resources,” Christensen said. “She understood the impact this program would have on kids and families — giving them tools to succeed for a lifetime.”

Student entrepreneurs learn how to create a product line, how to pitch their product to customers, how to problem solve, and how to properly manage finances so their businesses can succeed. With the help of parents and family members, students hold twice a year fairs at Las Cruces’ Downtown Plaza; products range from paintings, greeting cards, keychains and jewelry, soaps and hand sanitizers — even a laser-guided marshmallow blowgun.

Parents and family members are also part of the program, helping to set up tents for their own children, as well as other participants who may not have a strong support system.

During the coronavirus, Christensen and her team took their program virtual, preparing thousands of science- and entrepreneur-based summer activity kits to keep kids across southern New Mexico engaged in learning. The response has been so great that the program expanded into Grant and Sierra counties in January. Additionally, the program has created service-based programs, so kids can learn skills in babysitting, farming, yardwork, photography, contracting, cooking, mechanics, and more.

Additionally, adult volunteers have helped the young entrepreneurs with virtual business counseling, website, and social media development to take their endeavors online.

“When all this started, I didn’t know what it meant, or what it would lead to. I didn’t set out to make this a national entrepreneur program, which is where I feel this is leading me,” Christensen said. “I’m a mother and I knew my kiddo needed it — which meant others needed a program like this to thrive.”

Previous Nusenda Financial Education Innovator awardees include:

  • Andrea Mattern, former math teacher at Albuquerque’s Valley High School and a member of the Federal Reserve Bank Educational Council. She was selected for her innovative classroom strategies and dedication to help students become money smart.
  • Alex Luce of Mandy’s Farm Vocational Access and Meaningful Opportunities for Success (VAMOS) program, for her pioneering effort to help individuals with disabilities and their families to become financially secure.
  • Julian Griego, Lead Instructor and Chef de Cuisine for the Street Food Institute, which uses the culture and allure of food and the culinary arts to create jobs, develop local business opportunities, and inspire the entrepreneurial leaders of the future.
  • Henry Jake Foreman, MCRP, founder of the Indigenous youth collective and mentorship program Karuna Colectiva and Program Manager of New Mexico Community Capital’s Financial Literacy and Business Basics course, who uses Indigenous processes and methodologies to encourage personal development, innovation, and entrepreneurship to Native Americans.
  • Ona Porter, Prosperity Works founder and former CEO, whose long-time commitment to economic equity and financial well-being has helped New Mexico families achieve long-term financial security; her additional support of unbanked New Mexicans during the COVID-19 pandemic ensured people could quickly access the money they needed without exorbitant fees.

For information on the Financial Education Innovator program and to submit a nomination, visit the Innovators page.

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