East Syracuse: Fast cash for Cara

On Jan. 3, Cara Miller, a first grade student from Fremont Elementary School, entered a wind-blown cash vault and came out $67 richer, thanks to a new program called Bank at School.

Bank at School is sponsored by the ESM-NS Federal Credit Union, along with the ES-M Central School District. The program is designed to teach children good savings habits and how to "hold onto their money." More than 75 ES-M high school business students drive the program for hands-on experience under the direction of the credit union.

Students who opened new accounts or made deposits during Bank at School Days in November and December were entered into a drawing for a chance for cash in the portable vault. The vault was loaded with $300.

Miller, wearing safety glasses and an apron, stepped into the vault set up in the school's gymnasium, and clutched as much flying cash as she could while classmates looked on and cheered.

Before the event took place, Miller practiced using hair dryers, fans and play money. "It was a lot like how I practiced at home," Miller said. The vault inside was very windy but not noisy, she said.

When asked what she planned to do with the money, Miller said that a portion of her winnings would be donated to "Wanderers Rest, a shelter for homeless puppies in Chittenango. The rest will be deposited into Miller's savings account.

High school participants counted the money. Once the sum was revealed, Bill Sweeney, CEO of ESM-NS Federal Credit Union, spoke to the crowd of children.

"When you save money you always get interest," Sweeney said, upping the sum to $75.

Then Sweeney surprised all by doubling the amount to $150 because of Miller's demonstrated generosity toward charity. The increase would allow Miller to donate the full $75 to the shelter and keep the other half for her savings.

Each month, the high school students get bussed to elementary schools in the district. The students serve as mentors and assist the younger ones in opening accounts and making deposits.

Eleventh grader Darien Coplin just began working with the program this year. He said he's seen a lot of good feedback from the kids so far.

To date, more than 300 students have signed up to participate in the monthly banking days.

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