• Brittney Bennett

UKB Education, BancFirst partner for Seed Program


BY BRITTNEY BENNETT, EDITOR

GIDUWA CHEROKEE NEWS


TAHLEQUAH - The UKB Education Department has partnered with BancFirst to create The Seed Program, an opportunity that will give young Keetoowah students a jumpstart on an education savings fund.


Under the program, the Education Department will create and deposit $100 into an education savings account with BancFirst. The student will then be able to contribute money to their account through activities set by the department.


Funds from the account will then be released to the student upon graduating high school and enrolling in college or a trade program. If a student chooses not to further their education after graduating high school, they will be allowed to access the funds when they turn 21.


The idea for the program came from Education Director Dr. Leslie Hannah and will begin by targeting fifth-and-sixth grade Keetoowah students.


“This is intended to give our students a jumpstart, if you will, when they’re still young. When they come out of high school, they will already have a little bit of a nest egg built up from the program. It may or may not be enough to get them through their entire education program, but they’re not coming in completely cold with nothing,” said Hannah.


Students can earn money by completing a variety of tasks including getting good grades in school, reading and completing community service. Once a task is complete, the student must turn in a form to Hannah for documentation.


“Whoever they worked with that day will sign off on their form. I’ll keep a tally of that time and once every semester, so twice a year, I’ll go through and tally up the hours. Those hours get multiplied by whatever the rate is we set. For example, they get paid for grades. Getting As are worth $20. Bs are worth $10. Anything less gets nothing. I’m not paying for mediocrity. I’m paying for excellence,” said Hannah.


Students also have the opportunity to complete “life skills” courses through the Education Department for money.


“The life skills courses teach students things like how to do your own laundry, change a flat tire, things like that,” said Hannah. “A lot of these students don’t know that kind of stuff. They’ve never had to do it because a family member has always done it. We’re paying for those skills too because if I’m going to help pay your tuition and send you off to school somewhere, I need to know that you can survive away from home.”


To remain eligible throughout the duration of the program, Keetoowah students must obtain their high school diploma and cannot be convicted of a crime.


“The account still belongs to the tribe until we release it. If the student drops out of school or gets into trouble, it’s over. The money reverts to the tribe,” said Hannah. “But as long as you’re making good decisions and doing what is being asked of you, we’re going to keep feeding that Seed account.”


The program was specifically created for the Keetoowahs after Hannah reached out to his cousin Jay Hannah, Executive Vice President of Financial Services at BancFirst in Oklahoma City.


“I called Jay with my idea and asked if he had any programs like this. He said, ‘If I don’t have them, I’ll create one for you.’ It was perfect. In early December we got together with Tahlequah President Rob Headley, Chief Joe Bunch and Assistant Chief Jeff Wacoche and worked out the details. BancFirst rolled up their sleeves and went to work on designing this for us. Nobody else gets this,” said Hannah.


Participating Keetoowah children and their parents can visit any BancFirst location in Oklahoma to periodically see how the account is growing and even add to it themselves.


“In every district, there’s at least a branch somewhere. They’re all over the state of Oklahoma, not just here in Cherokee County. They can add their own money to it when they visit the bank. It will be deposits only though, no withdrawals until college or they’re 21,” said Hannah.


Keetoowah children also do not have to reside in the tribe’s jurisdictional area to participate in the program.


“Those that are out of state can do it too,” said Hannah. “However, they will have to come here first or make some arrangements with us, either by fax or mail. They also have to understand that it will not be at the bank of their choice since BancFirst is our partner on this.”


Hannah is also hoping to expand The Seed Program to newborns in the future.


“Ultimately once we get this on track, I would like to start it at birth, where a Keetoowah child is born, they get their tribal membership and we set up the account. This is such a great opportunity and we hope to one day be able to offer it to all our children.”


To enroll in the program, Keetoowahs can contact the Education Department at 918-871-2796.

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