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Difference Maker

He teaches inner-city kids how to be smart about money

Douglas Coe has founded the Bulls and Bears summer camp, where kids can try being a stock analyst – and learn how to handle their own finances too.

By David Conrads/ Correspondent / September 20, 2010

Douglas Coe (center), founder and director of the Bull and Bear Investment Camp, poses with his campers (some of whom are throwing trading cards in the air) on the floor of the Kansas City (Mo.) Board of Trade. Mr. Coe’s parents taught him, ‘Be a person ... who reaches back and lifts others up,’ he says.

Susan Pfannmuller/Special to The Christian Science Monitor


Kansas City, Mo.

Trading was fast and furious in August on shares of a little-known manufacturer of organic health foods. Market analysts, portfolio managers, and stock traders pored over earnings reports and financial data. Brokers scurried to fill buy-and-sell orders before the market closed.

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Then came the news: Fires in Russia, floods in Pakistan, and a heat wave in the Midwest had sent prices on hard red winter wheat futures soaring in the trading pits of the Kansas City Board of Trade. Heavily dependent on wheat, shares in the health food company plunged.

Rest assured that your portfolio did not sustain a hit. The health food manufacturer was one of six fictional companies whose pretend shares were "traded" by 50 children attending the Bull and Bear Investment Camp in Kansas City, Mo.

Started by financial adviser Douglas Coe, the camp is designed to introduce young people to the basics of finance in a fun way.

"We have camps in our community and throughout America that train our children's bodies, and we need that," Mr. Coe says. "But we also need camps to train our children's minds."

Though it doesn't offer hiking in the woods, sleeping under the stars, or canoeing on a river, the Bull and Bear Camp has been popular since its inception in 1992. The free one-week session is promoted primarily in the inner city, but any youth between fourth and 12th grade can attend.

Campers are divided into two groups, the Bulls and the Bears. Each team member has a job: head trader, portfolio manager, economist, market analyst, stock trader, or commodity trader. The teams buy and sell stock in that summer's mock companies. The team with the highest portfolio value at the end of camp is declared the winner.

Bounding into a meeting room at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and Museum on Kansas City's east side, sharply dressed in a suit and tie, Coe looks every inch the financial adviser. An animated speaker with a sunny disposition, hearty laugh, and seemingly limitless energy, he has no problem holding the attention of 50 young people for two hours.

Part teacher, part preacher, and part entertainer, he provides plenty of opportunities for classroom participation.

By the end of the week, the campers have learned about the principles of supply and demand, inflation, credit and debt, bonds, commodities, compound interest, market sectors, market indices, ticker symbols, algorithms, and electronic trading.

One highlight is a trip to the Kansas City Board of Trade, a commodities exchange, where, after-hours, the children engage in a mock trading session on the floor of the exchange.

On the last day, Coe delivers a passionate oration on the traps of bad credit, high-interest payday loans, and excessive debt, which he calls financial slavery.