Tena Lozano’s Twitter page carries the philosophy she has employed across California and Nevada: “Let’s teach our kids about money before they start making big mistakes!”
Driven by a passion for teaching youth about budgeting and basic finances, Lozano has guided a reality fair called “Bite of Reality” from a program involving 200 high schoolers in 2012 to one that is on track to teach more than 11,000 teens this year, with the assistance of more than 40 credit unions.
As executive director of the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation, the foundation for credit unions in California and Nevada, Lozano sees firsthand the benefit of these efforts.
“Kids so desperately need programs like this,” she explains. “Students aren’t getting these lessons at home and, sometimes they’re not getting them in school, either.”
Bite of Reality sets up students with fictional occupations, salaries, families, debts, and health insurance payments.
Students then visit booths at the fair to “purchase” items ranging from housing and transportation to food and clothing.
Along the way, they learn the essentials of personal finance.
This year, Lozano developed a mobile app to track transactions and make the experience even more relevant.
The foundation provides kits to credit unions that sponsor the events, eliminating the need to create programs from the ground up.
One of the most fulfilling parts of Lozano’s job comes a few minutes into the reality fairs, often held on Saturdays, when bleary-eyed teens begin to embrace the concept.
“My favorite days of work are when I go to Bite of Reality and see the fair in action,” Lozano says. “The energy in the room changes. The kids who crossed their arms and didn’t want to be here are taking it seriously. It’s so eye-opening to them. That’s why I do this.”