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Meet the Financial Literacy Leaders Making a Difference in Their Communities


Throughout Hispanic Heritage month, CNBC, in partnership with Acorns, asked communities across America to nominate local financial literacy leaders who demonstrated a commitment to educating those who are often left behind.

Hundreds of names were submitted, yet only a few could be chosen. These leaders have spent countless hours improving life in the communities they serve. Each recognized leader received $100 in an Acorns account and a financial literacy leadership digital badge.

Ruben Rivera

Ruben Rivera of New York wants to be an example to his young students, many of whom can relate to the Honduran immigrant, who himself attended one of the city's Title 1 schools. Title 1 funding provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income households.

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"I want to be an example to young students that look like me in knowing that the only limits are the ones we place on ourselves by not dreaming big enough," said Rivera.

Rivera began his teaching career at Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit organization for poorer children and families that provides free parenting workshops, preschool programming and child-oriented health programs in the historically Black and Hispanic upper Manhattan neighborhood.

Rivera built upon his experience teaching at the middle- and high-school level in New York, the nation's largest public school system. He also spent time as the Community School Director in the South Bronx. As the Director of Professional Development at the Council of Economic Education, Rivera developed a number of programs around financial literacy.

During the pandemic, Rivera created several digital lesson plans, including a online personal finance elective course for students at risk of not graduating on time. More than 10,000 teachers accessed these webinars and lesson plans.

Rivera has served on numerous financial literacy panels, including the Council for Economic Education's Advancing Financial Literacy for Young Americans alongside then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan under the Obama Administration.

Mary Barber

Mary Barber teaches financial literacy math at Columbus International High School, a large urban public school located in Columbus, Ohio. Many of Mary's students are first-generation Americans or are new to the country. Some of her students hail from as far away as Kenya, Nepal and Venezuela.

According to Barber, the lessons her students receive in her classroom are often brought home and shared with their parents.

"My students will go home and teach their parents what they have learned in class about being financially savvy," she said. "So much of the time, their parents are busy working more than one job and cannot acquire the knowledge themselves."

Andrea Pena

Andrea Pena is a passionate educator from Eagar, Arizona, where she teaches high school seniors about personal finance. With the help of technology, Andrea uses real-world examples to explain concepts like buying a car, financing a mortgage and investing. Pena believes if her students can avoid the financial pitfalls many new graduates make, they'll have the ability to save and invest money that otherwise would have to go towards paying off unnecessary debt.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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