WMU Sanford Center program manager helps Burmese-American teens learn about finances

Contact: Amy Coughenour

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.—Western Michigan University alumnus Todd Mora joined the Burma Center in Battle Creek during the summer to help Burmese-American sixth through ninth graders sharpen their financial skills. Mora, B.B.A.’85, MBA ’94, is program manager for Western's Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness in the Haworth College of Business and was recruited by Burma Center Program Manager Sara Johnson to share his expertise for a week during the center's summer camp.

Located in Battle Creek, the Burma Center provides a resource for Burmese Americans in the local community by promoting Burmese culture through advocacy, empowerment and education. The center's summer camp is a six-week program where students spend four days in classes and then spend their Friday on a field trip. This year’s theme was “The Great Outdoors,” with the camp focused on reading, writing, Burmese language and culture, and math. It is geared toward kindergarten through ninth-grade students, and Mora focused his work with the sixth through ninth graders. 

Todd Mora, shown working with students at the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness

Mora worked with 35 students on a myriad of topics including career selection, college and post-secondary training selection and budgeting, overall financial management, saving versus investing versus speculating, insurance, budgeting for housing costs and retirement planning.

“The campers were engaged in all the topics,” Mora says. “However, careers, college, and housing were the ones they found the most interesting.”

Working very closely with these students, Mora was able to adjust his teachings to what they were curious about. “There were a few students who were interested in athletic scholarships,” Mora says. “We had a lively discussion about the number of high school athletes who receive college scholarships and why it is important to plan on how to pay for college without relying on an athletic scholarship.”

During the week, students learned important lessons that will apply to their real-world experiences as they make their way through high school and middle school. Mora says, “The students agreed that working hard in school, saving money and making sure to take advantage of all programs where they can earn college credit in high school is important.” 

The Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness is focused on promoting financial literacy not just at Western, but throughout the greater Kalamazoo community. Mora’s work with the Burma Center this summer is an example of the type of programs the center can offer to schools and community organizations throughout the area. 

In providing financial education during this summer camp, it is Mora’s goal to create a foundation that these students would carry with them as they make their way through the educational process. “I hope that they will take away the importance of thinking about a career early and what you need to do to get there,” he says. “We talked about researching the college or post-secondary training that they want to attend and how to understand the cost, what it will take to be accepted and why it is important to complete your degree or program. I trust that they know the key to financial independence and success is saving, and that investing early for your future holds immense importance.”

Mora says he enjoyed the time that he spent with the students and considers it valuable to them. 

“It was a fun and enriching experience,” says Mora. “The Burma Center and everyone associated with it were wonderful. Sara Johnson, Jenifer Pui (Burma Center education engagement coordinator) and Lena MacMartin (a WMU student participating in the Broncos Lead internship program), made the camp week a great experiencefor me and the kids!” 

To learn more about programs offered by the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness, email Todd Mora

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