Online Feature: Your AAA Colorado supporting financial literacy for young people

Tom Hess

Gaddi Layden grew up in Colonia Constitucion, a poor neighborhood of Guadalajara, Mexico. At the time, saving and banking were concepts only for the wealthy. But Gaddi had different ideas.

When she arrived in the U.S. 22 years ago, Gaddi worked as a nanny to children in the Hilltop and Crestmoor neighborhoods of Denver. The Hilltop parents took their children to the Young Americans Center for Financial Education in Denver, a bank and financial education program specifically for children.

AAA Colorado has been a long-time sponsor of the Young Americans Center’s International Towne program. AAA Travel provides “passports” that each child receives representing 16 nations. In their passport, each child writes the nation’s currency, its customary greeting, its manner of saying “thank you,” and its products and services.

Every year the International Towne program provides 11,000 middle schoolers the opportunity to learn about global business, trade, currency exchange, diplomacy, and responsible credit card use in a fun, hands-on way. “The experience is so different and so engaging, and the way it motivates students to learn is truly incredible,” said Betsy Sklar, vice president of business partnerships and development for the Young Americans Center for Financial Education. “It’s no wonder teachers sign their classes up year after year.”

Young Americans Center made such a difference in Gaddi’s outlook on life, that she ultimately enrolled her own two children. She says it gives her “goosebumps,” every time she tells the story of her son Matthew, 11, not just learning about finances, but learning life lessons as well.

When Matthew Layden, her son, was 10, he ran his own business with the YouthBiz center’s business camp, “and he raised $700 in three hours,” Gaddi said. “First, he paid his taxes, and then he and his sister shopped for toys, filling three carts, to give them to kids less privileged in the Holiday season. One of the gifts purchased, was a pair of Skull Candy headphones—really nice headphones. I felt bad that he couldn’t keep them, and I told him he could, but he didn’t want to. At that moment, it was clear to me that he understood the need for kindness to others. That gave me goosebumps.”

When EnCompass visited on the last day of the International Towne’s summer camp in July, Matthew served in “Netherlands,” one of 16 nations represented in the “passport” each child receives. In their passport, each child writes the nation’s currency, its customary greeting, its manner of saying “thank you,” and its products and services. Children in Netherlands role-play as “peacekeepers”—keeping the peace by enforcing the law. It is “illegal” in International Towne to lose track of your passport, but Matthew told EnCompass that he likes showing mercy if the student made the effort to find their passport. Other judges in the section preferred to pronounce guilt, banging the gavel loudly.

Gaddi hopes to double the number of children she brings to the program, in part because of the trouble she sees among people at the other end of life—those retiring without the means to support themselves.

“Nobody told them to start planning for retiring earlier in life,” Gaddi said. “You can never start early enough.”

Join AAA Colorado in supporting Young American Center. Visit for information on programs, and make a donation at

Tom Hess is Editor of EnCompass.