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The Nusenda Foundation has announced 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, as its quarterly 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 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 wellbeing.”
A strong financial education has been shown to have a positive effect on the economic wellbeing of individuals and their families and also predicts future healthy behaviors around savings, credit card usage, spending and risk, Nusenda said in a press release.
Prosperity Now, a national, public policy organization in 2018 ranked New Mexico 50th in income poverty and 46th in the number of households that don’t use traditional financial institutions, such as a bank or credit union, the release said.
The Nusenda Foundation, the release said, 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, education and government sectors across New Mexico. Awardees receive $5,000 from the 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 aproblem 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 percent 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 to soaps and hand sanitizers – even a laser-guided marshmallow blowgun.
Parents and family members also are part of the program, the release said, helping to set up tents for their own children, as well as other participants who may not have a strong support system.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Christensen said her team took their program virtual, preparing thousands of science- and entrepreneur-based summer activity kits to keep teens across southern New Mexico engaged in learning. The program expanded into Grant and Sierra counties in January. Additionally, the program has created service-based programs, so teens can learn skills in babysitting, farming, yardwork, photography, contracting, cooking, mechanic, and other skills.
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.”
For information on the Financial Education Innovator program and to submit a nomination, visit: www.nusendafoundation.org/innovators.
Contact Christensen at 575-680-6766 or firstname.lastname@example.org.