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PNC Grow Up Great Interview Series: Sally McCrady

by on February 22, 2013

Grow Up Great is The PNC Financial Service Group’s $350 million, multi-year, bilingual early childhood education initiative that supports art, science, financial education and math with grants, original programs, educational materials, volunteerism and advocacy. Through partnerships with nationally renowned preschool organizations like Sesame Workshop, The Fred Rogers Company and the National Head Start Association, it is able to reach millions of low- to moderate-income preschoolers nationwide with free and innovative multimedia resources.

Financial literacy for all

“For Me, for You, for LaterTM the key financial literacy component of PNC’s Financial Education for Young Children program, which was created by Sesame Workshop as part of a continuing partnership with PNC, encourages young children to manage their money by spending it wisely, saving some for a rainy day, and giving some away to charity. Being the financial literacy nerds we are, the NerdWallet Banking team jumped at the chance to speak with Sally McCrady, Grow Up Great’s deputy executive director, and learn more about the program. Here’s what she had to say about her work and its impact.

NerdWallet: What was the inspiration for Grow Up Great?

Sally McCrady: Our CEO, Jim Rohr, was interested in the impact of PNC’s philanthropy efforts and wanted to focus on one issue. As part of his effort to look for “the right issue”, he asked our employees what they thought. They wanted to see more of a direct focus on children and education. We wanted to see where PNC could really make a difference, and the more we learned about early childhood education, the more we became convinced that this would be a good fit for us, not just socially, but economically as well. Some studies say there’s as high as a $16 return for every $1 you invest in early childhood education. As bankers, those numbers really appealed to us. And of course, we focus on reaching children from low- to moderate-income families because they can benefit from our programs the most.

How do you develop new program ideas for Grow Up Great?

We have an advisory council composed of 15 experts from around the country. We talk to them to get ideas for new directions and strategy. We also get a lot of great ideas from Sesame Workshop and The Fred Rogers Company.

Why did you decided to partner with organizations like Sesame Workshop and The Fred Rogers Company?

We’re bankers, not teachers, so we knew how important it was to have credible partners in the early childhood education space, especially if we wanted to have a real impact and get people excited to use our materials. Parents see Sesame Workshop as the gold standard in early childhood education, so we knew pretty quickly it would be a good idea to approach them. Our partnership with them also helps us understand the trending issues in early childhood education. We need their expertise to continually deliver high-quality resources for kids, parents and teachers.

What are your job responsibilities?

I work in the community affairs group, and I manage the four components of Grow Up Great, namely, advocacy, awareness, volunteerism and grants. PNC has branches in 19 states and D.C. Grow Up Great is a common program across all markets, and I oversee the day-to-day efforts.

Tell me more about PNC’s grant program

We often fund collaborative projects within organizations that support math, science, arts and financial education. We also like to fund direct programs that enhance a specific area of a curriculum. The three common components of our grant making are professional development for teachers, direct services for children that create hands-on activities for them, and family engagement activities that include take-home materials that encourage parents to interact with their kids, field trips and family nights at science centers and museums. I’d also like to mention that our grant program has a larger evaluation system in place, which allows us to continually improve the existing programs we’re funding and learn from past mistakes.

What do you like most about your job?

Gosh, where do I start? I feel so lucky to be able to do this. It’s been wonderful to be with Grow Up Great as it grows and develops. As part of my job, I get to travel to our regional markets and work with local leaders. This means I get to see amazing organizations at work and see how our programs are being implemented. They look different in every market, and it’s always interesting to see how local organizations work together. For example, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Orchestra, PlayhouseSquare and the Cleveland Museum of Art all work together to implement arts education as part of Grow Up Great. On a side note, I have two little boys who just outgrew the Grow Up Great program, and I’ve been able to apply it to my own life. That’s been very rewarding as well.

Grow Up Great programs incorporate math, science and art almost seamlessly. How do children benefit from this?

Sesame Workshop and The Fred Rogers Company really helped us realize that when you’re a young child, everything is interconnected. Math and art and science don’t really fall into different categories yet. With our financial education program, we that found children naturally work on a lot of the basic skills they need for financial literacy anyway. They’re learning to make choices, learning that things have value, and learning about delayed gratification and how to wait for things. Children are also learning about the difference between wants and needs. “For Me, for You, for LaterTM,” the Sesame multi-media activity kit we use in the financial education program, incorporates all of these very basic lessons.

Do you have a favorite Muppet?

I really like Cookie Monster, but on some days, I have to say that I identify more with Oscar the Grouch. Especially when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Any tips for our younger readers?

All the financial education concepts we’re working with are really simple, and they’re not just for kids. I think we all need a quick reminder on why it’s important to save, wait and share. All of our materials are available online, and if you live in a PNC region, you can stop by a branch and get them for free.

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