Students within the Portland Public School system will have the opportunity to learn about and be equipped with the right financial tools to be successful later in life, the athletes tell PEOPLE

By Lindsay Kimble
June 29, 2021 09:06 AM
Ndamukong and Katya Suh, Brennan Scarlett
Ndamukong and Katya Suh, Brennan Scarlett
| Credit: Shani Storey

Like most teens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh didn't really understand his personal finances until reaching high school.

"I didn't start to learn about financial literacy and being able to balance a checkbook and what a credit card was until my mom put one in my hands as a high schooler," Ndamukong, now 34, tells PEOPLE.

His wife, Katya Suh, adds, "When I got to college, you have your bank account, and you get your first credit card and it's understanding of what that means. ... And I think a lot of my peers and I all thought, 'Oh, it's $10,000. I got $10,000 I can use.' Well, of course, that's not really how it works."

It's why the couple, and Miami Dolphins linebacker Brennan Scarlett, 27, didn't hesitate to partner with subscription platform Stash's Stash101, a virtual bank and investment simulation technology that teaches children about personal finance.

"I think it's one of the reasons why we're excited about this partnership, there was nothing like this when we were growing up," Ndamukong says, with Scarlett echoing, "I never really got to have that hands-on experience until I actually started making a little bit of money."

Stash101, the Suh's Suh Family Foundation and Scarlett's Big Yard Foundation are launching Stash101 Summer School, a program that will give lessons on financial literacy to 160 selected students within the Portland Public School system in Portland, Oregon. Kicking off on July 6, the classes will be held until the end of the month at two schools through the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) Trajectory Math program, which caters to historically underserved students.

"Forty-three states do not require standalone personal finance courses in high school and 80% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck," Brandon Krieg, Stash co-founder and CEO, tells PEOPLE. "It doesn't have to be this way. Stash101 is on a mission to introduce millions of kids and teens to the critical lessons and real-world situations that will help them develop smarter money habits to last a lifetime." 

Ndamukong and Katya Suh and Brennan Scarlett
Ndamukong and Katya Suh (left) and Brennan Scarlett
| Credit: Ndamukong Suh/instagram; Getty

The curriculum includes a simulated economy experience, with students doing things like earning salaries and learning about saving versus credit.

"For some of these kids, this might be the first time in their family to really learn and understand what financial literacy is," Katya notes. "And our hope is not only to teach them, but also to have that be taught in a fun way so that they want to share with their families and their friends so that it doesn't just stick with them, but it sticks with their small community as it grows from there."

Scarlett sees this as an opportunity that is particularly beneficial for kids from lower-income households: "I think that if they're equipped with the right financial education and financial tools, they can have more control of their outcome. And that's really why I'm so interested in the Stash one-on-one curriculum ... just the ability for our youth to take control of their own destiny regardless of their background."

Portland, of course, has a special place in both NFL stars' hearts. Ndamukong and Scarlett hail from the West coast city. Ndamukong tells PEOPLE it was important to both men to "take care of [their] backyard first."

"We like to be involved in our communities, not only hands-on, but also from allowing and bringing different tools that may not be afforded to them, that we are afforded as very lucky and thought-provoking people," Ndamukong says.

The Suhs and Scarlett feel it's "never too early" to start that education, explaining that the program will be available for middle schoolers in order to instill smart financial practices before kids typically have to begin making choices about saving and spending.

"Financial education is empowering and, importantly, can help kids and teenagers avoid mistakes that might impact them for years or even decades. It's expected that kids are taught math, reading, and writing in school," Stash's Krieg says. "Financial literacy is just as important as any of the core school subjects, but it's oftentimes ignored. Stash101 changes that, and makes financial education easy and free for parents and teachers to access."

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Through both of their charities, and now, with Stash101, Ndamukong says that the bottom line is "really about paying it forward and using our platforms to educate others."

"I leverage the platform that I fortunately have, and some of the platforms that are within my network and kind of take the ability to inspire and motivate the youth," adds Scarlett.

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And that giving back mentality was obvious to Stash101, Krieg says, calling the football stars "tremendous role models on the field" who are "devoted to empowering our nation's kids."

"It was a no-brainer to combine our efforts with the Suh Family Foundation and Big Yard for an even more powerful outcome," Krieg says.

The Suhs hope their own kids — 3-month old twins Kingston Rudolph Bongjo Suh and Khari David Fombuh Suh — have access to a similar program someday.

"It's been so important for Ndamukong and I growing our family to understand the importance of financial literacy and what we would like to see in our kids and have them understand the value of the dollar," Katya says. "And so this is a great way for us to be able to work with these youth and help them start their foundation now."