UK Coach John Calipari and other dignitaries used the Joe Craft Center Thursday to unveil a charity effort they hope will improve the financial acumen of Kentuckians.
The program, titled Vault: Understanding Money, will target fourth- to sixth-graders in Kentucky elementary schools.
Calipari vetoed the program's usual target audience: high school students. "They'll say I'm doing it for recruiting," he said of the critics he anticipated.
Tom Davidson, the CEO of EverFi, the Washington, D.C.-based company that established the Vault program three years ago, said the program is a two-and-a-half-hour course. Schools are free to integrate the program in any existing class, Davidson said. The program will be taught in October or November.
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The Calipari Family Foundation for Children partnered with Kentucky banks to pay the cost, which will be between $4,000 and $5,000 per school, Davidson said. Participating banks include Kentucky Bankers Association, First Community Bank of Clinton, Republic, Central and Whitaker banks of Louisville and Lexington.
With several bankers sitting in the front row, Congressman Ben Chandler used the occasion to salute the banks' participation.
"Bankers have been getting a little bit of a bad rap," Chandler said in reference to the country's economic slump and some financial institutions' handing out executive bonuses after taking government bailouts.
Luther Deaton of Central Bank had noted that bankers were almost as unpopular as politicians, Chandler said.
"Not our Kentucky bankers," the congressman added. "... You all are not part of that New York crowd."
Envisioning students developing sound saving and spending habits and then passing the knowledge to their parents, Davidson called the program the "ultimate trickle-up scenario."
Another Kentucky congressman, Hal Rogers, presented Calipari with a plaque that recognized the UK coach as a "Difference Maker."
The plaque goes to people "who see things as they are and are not satisfied," said Rogers, noting Calipari's "extraordinary leadership."
Rogers said Calipari was a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A therometer registers what's going on, Rogers said, but a thermostat "makes things happen."
Several other speakers echoed the sentiment, sans plaque. New UK president Eli Capilouto called Calipari a "strong ambassador not only for service, but a strong advocate for young people."
Chandler called on Calipari to give the country a "crash course" in financial literacy, one of several thinly veiled references to the recent debt-ceiling debate.
"Can you manage that, Coach?" Chandler asked Calipari. To which the UK coach said, "I'm struggling to win a game."
More than once, Calipari tried to deflect the praise.
"I really don't want this to be about Ellen or myself or the (Calipari Family) Foundation," he said. "I want it to be about the young people's literacy program."
The news conference culminated a two-year effort to launch the financial-literacy program, which Calipari said he originally intended to introduce while coach at Memphis.
But Calipari stressed that charity work was a key part of being UK coach.
"If you want to cheat that position, you sit in there and watch basketball tapes," he said. "I understand what my job is here: coach basketball. But I think I cheat this position if that's all I think about all day."