HANCOCK COUNTY — It will be 13 years before Crystal Stanley’s son, Dane, heads to college.
The 5-year-old just started kindergarten at Harris Elementary School, but Mom is already saving spare change to help him pursue a college degree, if that’s what he wants.
Stanley is one of about 300 parents who already have enrolled their children in the Hancock County Promise, a local leg of Promise Indiana, a statewide effort that encourages communities to help children and families begin talking about and saving for college early.
Organizers say they hope to reach every kindergartner by their October deadline to enroll.
The program establishes free CollegeChoice 529 Savings Plans for local kindergarten students, with some seed money to get them started.
To encourage parents to begin the savings accounts for their children, local businesses have agreed to make the first $25 deposit. Hancock Health, NineStar Connect, Greenfield Banking Co., Tyner Pond Farm and the EMS Group have signed on to contribute funding for students’ first deposits.
At schools across the county — every school corporation in Hancock County is participating — this summer, parents were invited to enroll their kindergarten student in the program during school registration.
Scott Shipley, Mt. Vernon’s director of special programming who is heading the Hancock County Promise, said organizers are about a third of the way to reaching their goal of enrolling all 986 county kindergartners.
Parents have until the end of October to sign up. All they have to do is visit hancockcountypromise.org to get started.
Stanley said signing Dane up was easy and took less than 10 minutes. The program is a great opportunity to start saving for his future and get help from the community, she said.
“You never know what the future is going to hold,” she said. “Setting it up early just benefits your child.”
The program is two-fold, Shipley said. First, it helps parents start putting money away for their children. But the program also aims to generate conversation about and curiosity for college among the county’s tiniest learners.
Teachers will incorporate lessons about college — and saving for it — in their classrooms, and in September kindergartners will take a field trip to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis to see a college firsthand.
In October, once the sign up period ends, the students will be challenged to raise the next $25 deposit for their accounts.
Kindergartners will be encouraged to ask family and friends to donate money to their accounts, an effort organizers hope engages both parents and children in the program.
As a reward, a third $25 deposit will be made as a match; that investment is expected to come from the county schools’ education foundations and other community organizations.
Shipley said organizers hope to spend the next few weeks reaching parents who might be a little apprehensive about the program and ease their concerns. Parents aren’t required to pay anything to enroll their student, he said.
“There’s no catch to this,” he said. “There’s no strings attached.”
Parents with Hancock County kindergartners are encouraged to enroll their students in the Hancock County Promise, a program that launches a College Choice 529 Savings Plan.
To sign up, visit hancockcountypromise.org.
The enrollment period ends in October.
Organizers of the Hancock County Promise are searching for community organizations and businesses to help sponsor aspects of the program, which launches college saving funds for Hancock County kindergartners.
If you’d like to help, contact Scott Shipley, director of special programming at Mt. Vernon, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.