Mind Treasures helps adults and children take control of finances

The nonprofit group views 'treasures' as more than just material wealth.

Mind Treasures
Marquis Snowden (sitting behind the children) volunteers in a class helping students allocate their allowances between categories like "save" and "spend."

Alex Mazloom doesn't believe that wealth can be defined by money alone.

"This cannot be just about money – it has to be more," he says. "Wealth cannot be limited to the material aspects of life."

Instead, he views wealth as a confluence of various resources, including everything from time and expertise to mental and physical strengths. And it is this mindset that permeates the work he does through Mind Treasures.

Mr. Mazloom is executive director and co-founder of this San Diego-based nonprofit organization, which has the goal of helping adults take control of their financial challenges and provides children with character development and financial literacy training.

"We are all born with treasures, and we gain knowledge and take that knowledge to work and gain expertise," Mazloom says. Mind Treasures helps people take stock of their own "treasures" as they work toward financial independence – while also encouraging them to use their gifts and wealth to help others.

The nonprofit organization revolves around the concept of "entrephilanthropy," which it defines as using resources and wealth, broadly construed, "to build stronger families, neighborhoods, and communities."

While financial independence is a commendable goal in and of itself, Mind Treasures teaches that improving the lives of the less fortunate is a greater accomplishment. 

Mind Treasures began as an idea of Nazila Shokohi, Mazloom's wife and co-founder. Her belief that everyone has the potential to become rich fuels the idea behind the nonprofit group. Its first workshop in 2006 was conducted for a group of friends and family in the couple's local Baha'i faith community. Intended to help members who were facing financial stresses, the workshop concentrated on the importance of wealth and prosperity. A similar workshop was later crafted for an audience of college students and conducted at the University of California, San Diego. 

The ABCs of Wealth program initially targeted adults. But the founders quickly realized there was an opportunity to share an important message with children as well. Programs for students in fourth and fifth grades focus on character development as well as financial literacy and training.

By the end of its first year, Mind Treasures began receiving endorsements and invitations to share the program more widely. By 2011, it was invited to extend its program to 650 students in 22 classes at a single elementary school.

Today, the program focuses almost entirely on teaching character development and financial literacy to students in the San Diego area. Its curriculum includes exercises that help children learn how to develop savings goals. 

"[Saving] needs to be something that starts from childhood," Mazloom says.

This is reinforced by providing each student with a box that has four compartments. They store money in compartments labeled "spend," "save," "invest," or "share."

Since its inception, some 4,900 individuals – mostly elementary school children in grades three, four, and five – have completed the program.

It's not the statistics, but the individual stories, that best speak to the impact of Mind Treasures, Mazloom says. They include feedback from fourth graders who say they plan to pass on what they learn to their own children, or from a newlywed couple who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and who used the program to craft a strategy to pay down their crushing debt.

Mind Treasures has a flexible management structure led by Mazloom and his wife and staffed by just eight part-time facilitators. Without the cost of an office, the 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization is able to dedicate its funds to courses rather than paying overhead costs.

During a recent interview with San Diego Bay in the background, Mazloom discussed how Mind Treasures curriculum has made its way to Beijing and the Solomon Islands, as well as more recently through an affiliate in New Zealand that serves 100 fourth graders.

"It has just been amazing," he says.

• Learn more at http://mindtreasures.com.

[Editor's note: The original photo caption accompanying this story described a photograph other than the one shown. The original credit for the photograph was also incorrect.]

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