Teaching Financial Literacy
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
In a tough economic climate, it can be intimidating to make financial decisions. Luckily, Illinois alumni Brian and Tracy Frizzell are here to help.
The pair graduated from the University of Illinois in 1996 – Brian with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, and Tracy with her Bachelor’s in Human Resources and Family Studies – and founded the Economic Awareness Council in 2003.
The EAC is a Chicago-based 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization whose mission is to prepare students and families for the economic and financial decisions that they will make both today and tomorrow, Tracy explained. During the past seven years, the EAC has grown from serving 50 students to serving more than 9,000 individuals, primarily in low-income communities. So why do they do it?
“The EAC’s founders all believed that there was a significant lack of financial and economic literacy among youth in America; we believed that increased financial literacy would help to improve the basic financial skills and daily lives of the students that the organization serves,” Tracy said. “The organization sought specifically to provide programming that allowed students to apply what they learned in a hands-on manner, and that used peer-based information and real life examples whenever possible.”
Brian and Tracy founded the organization with “a few other individuals in the field of finance.” The organization currently has over 50 volunteers, two employees and several contractual instructors.
The most difficult part of running a non-profit organization, Tracy said, is that there is always something that needs to be done; the act of obtaining the resources that the EAC needs to meet its objectives as an organization and to serve its community’s needs is very challenging, as is the task of coordinating the EAC’s many activities and programs.
The most rewarding part, according to Tracy, is seeing the impact that the EAC has made in the lives of the students and clients that it serves.
“Seeing students develop as young professionals and increase their skills through involvement in our programs, such as our business internship, is very rewarding,” she said. “It is also exciting for me to see the organization grow and develop to meet and even exceed my highest expectations.”
The University of Illinois played a big role, Tracy said, in preparing her and Brian for their lives as entrepreneurs.
“At Illinois, both Brian and I were involved with a number of independent research projects. Attending a large institution with advanced opportunities for students that were self-motivated and had the initiative to seek these out was very beneficial,” she said. “These more independent, self-driven projects provided a good base for developing the organizational, interpersonal and managerial skills needed to run a non-profit or any small business.”
For students interested in entrepreneurial ventures, Tracy has a few pieces of advice.
“First, know your market or the specific unmet need and community you are seeking to serve; ensure that you are providing a unique offering or expanding outreach in this area.
“Second, start small; establish a pilot, attempt to develop a model that will work on a small scale to prove your concept or approach, and to obtain results that you can use to grow support and capacity.
“Third, securing support is challenging and essential for success. Develop a successful strategy for fundraising.
“Lastly, network as much as possible within organizations in your community and within your field.”
And if you’ve got some free time, check out the EAC somewhere on your road to success.