CPAs across the country are stepping up and getting personally involved in helping Americans of all ages make better financial decisions by volunteering their unique professional skills in the area of financial literacy to make a difference in other people's lives.

The 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program, a pro bono collaborative effort of the American Institute of CPAs and the state CPA societies, is one great way for CPAs to get involved in their local communities, helping to improve the financial literacy of their fellow citizens. In hundreds of communities across the country, CPAs are using the resources of the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program to build public service programs of their own.

It's a win-win for all.

In New York, for example, CPA Todd Ringler has created a one-day curriculum for local school districts. "Our focus is to bring real-life solutions to high school seniors," Ringler explains. "They've been taught about economics conceptually, but the 360 Degree material allows me to bring the real world to the classroom by having them ask themselves, 'How am I going to support myself?' 'How do I get my first credit card?' 'What's it going to take to buy a car or a home?' These are questions that really give meaning to the study of economics."

Ringler has also made financial literacy an important part of his practice, conveying the lessons he has learned to his clients. "People need to have a plan about how they are going to reach their goals, whether it's buying a house, starting a business, having kids or retiring," he explained.

Crystal Faulkner got the idea of teaching financial literacy to inner-city kids a few years ago, shortly after she and two other CPAs founded Cooney Faulkner & Stevens in the Over the Rhine area of downtown Cincinnati, where a number of their start-up technology clients were located. "We were looking for a way a small firm could give back to the community," she explains. "So we adopted an inner-city classroom where we began to teach math."

With the support of a local newspaper, Faulkner created the not-for-profit corporation Accounting for Kids, originally intended as a mentoring and tutoring program for CPAs to teach school children financial skills.

That's when bond broker Stuart Crickmer became involved.

He had developed a sophisticated stock market game for adults, and at Faulkner's request, he revamped the game to make it kid-friendly.

In November 2004, as part of the third annual Accounting for Kids Day, CPAs across Ohio used the game and other resources to introduce the importance of financial literacy to more than 7,000 elementary school students in 200 classrooms, many in inner-city neighborhoods. "After playing the stock market game, and having CPAs talk about the issues involved, kids are suddenly talking about owning their own business," said Faulkner. "It opens their eyes because they have no one in their world who talks like this. We're showing teachers how to incorporate these lessons into their math curriculum. The idea is to teach kids how money can work for them, rather than them working for money."

If you are looking for a satisfying way to make a difference in people's lives using your unique professional skills, visit the AICPA financial literacy Web site at https://volunteers.aicpa.org/financialliteracy.

Sign up to take a broad leadership role in the volunteer effort to educate Americans on financial matters that apply specifically to their particular stage of life or needs.

Jimmy Williamson is chair of the AICPA Financial Literacy Grassroots Mobilization Team. The GMT was founded at the AICPA Spring 2004 Council Meeting to encourage CPAs to volunteer to improve financial literacy in the United States.

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