Local Youth Glean Insight from Financial Phenom

Mark Parker | St. Pete Catalyst

Jul 03, 2024

Caden Harris, 14, could have relaxed at home in Atlanta and likely had his pick of speaking engagements following a trip to the White House. A local group of community partners brought him to Pinellas Park to speak to other young people.

Caden is the founder and CEO of Caden Teaches, which now generates over six figures annually. He graduated high school at 13, and has also authored four books.

St. Petersburg-based BayFirst Financial, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County and several local organizations, like the James B. Sanderlin Family Center, ensured hundreds of area children could learn from the business prodigy. Chris Hackney, president of small business lending for BayFirst, emceed the June 27 event at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center.

“Exposure goes a long way with financial literacy,” Hackney said. “The hope is that kids understand there is a way they can take control of their finances, and they don’t have to wait until a certain age to start.”

Hackney credited Joanna Braddock, club event coordinator at Bayfirst, for the idea. She found Caden’s recent appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America inspiring and realized his message aligned with the bank’s Cash Kids Club’s mission.

The program provides a savings account with a special interest rate for minors. They also receive budgeting education, financial literacy tools and swag.

The June 27 event was only open to members and those who received an invitation.

Multiple area neighborhood centers contributed financially. Hackney called the event a true collaboration among community partners.

“It was really a matter of bringing someone in who looks like the students in our Kids Club,” he explained. “That would inspire them to understand … you don’t have to be 20 or 30 or wait until you’re a working professional to take your finances seriously. You can be a kid, just like Caden.”

Caden started his financial literacy business at 7. He now travels the nation in a bus retrofitted to include a mock bank, grocery store and learning stations to teach kids about money and budgeting.

Entrepreneurialism is in Caden’s DNA. His family established Atlanta’s first African American Hotel, and his sister launched a nutrition company. The boy’s father began taking him to business meetings at 5.

Most kids do not share that lineage and upbringing. Teaching your child to budget and invest is exponentially more difficult for a single parent struggling to put food on the table.

Hackney hopes the Kids Club and event empower youth to take control of their financial future and avoid learning the hard way. “What we’ve found is, the message might resonate a little bit better if it is someone in their peer group,” he said.

“And I think they were inspired by his presentation.”

Caden stressed the importance of budgeting and saving. He also encouraged his peers to consider the benefits of investing money rather than spending it on a new gaming console. Hackney said the children enjoyed how Caden gamified his presentation with takes on Jeopardy and Family Feud.

Hackney said he could see “lights go on” in the minds of the mostly elementary and middle school-aged attendees, who also understood the magnitude of speaking at the White House. He told the crowd that “nothing separates you – other than this stage – from being a Caden Harris.”

In a subsequent social media post, Caden said he was “elated” for the opportunity. “It was inspiring to see so many young minds eager to learn about managing money and building a secure financial future,” he wrote. “A huge thank you to BayFirst Financial and Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County for making this event possible.”

Hackney noted that for many kids, the event was likely their first time learning those financial lessons. He hopes it stokes curiosity and that attendees will now utilize various local and online resources to foster fiscal responsibility.

After the event, Hackney spoke to 50 students affiliated with the Pinellas County Urban League about the importance of saving and investing. However, he plans to continue hosting younger financial literacy experts with better odds of resonating with local youth.

“BayFirst is here to support financial literacy in the community, and this is a continuation of that goal,” Hackney added. “Whether you’re a young member of our Cash Kids Club or a senior in our Trendsetters Club. As a community bank, that’s our responsibility.”