Future Magnates

Mentoring Youth—Brianna Aguilar, executive assistant and financial literacy coordinator for Montecito Bank & Trust (fourth from left) and Will Freeland, the bank’s business intelligence manager (third from left), stand with students and staff at Santa Barbara Senior High. Aguilar and Freeland help the students learn the principles and skills of the business world through a hands-on program called Dons Net Café.

Mentoring Youth—Brianna Aguilar, executive assistant and financial literacy coordinator for Montecito Bank & Trust (fourth from left) and Will Freeland, the bank’s business intelligence manager (third from left), stand with students and staff at Santa Barbara Senior High. Aguilar and Freeland help the students learn the principles and skills of the business world through a hands-on program called Dons Net Café.

A California bank helps employees mentor student entrepreneurs

By Ed Avis

When you hear about an organization that operates 14 small businesses, you assume it’s a business incubator or a corporate holding company. But Dons Net Café is neither. It’s a program at Santa Barbara Senior High in California that introduces students to all things business. Several employees of Montecito Bank & Trust in Santa Barbara, Calif., lend their expertise to the program.

“It’s really amazing what these students are doing and the kinds of experiences they are getting,” says Brianna Aguilar, an executive assistant and financial literacy coordinator at Montecito Bank, who volunteers one or two hours per month in the program. “When you come into the classroom, the students come up to you and shake hands and look you in the eye. They are learning about the skills that make you successful.”

The name Dons Net Café may sound like a coffee shop, but the students aren’t learning to become baristas there. Dons Net Café is the umbrella name for the program, which is affiliated with the Santa Barbara County Regional Occupational Program. Among the student-run businesses are Design N Cut, a custom-designed apparel business, and Common Ground, which sells jewelry made by the Toba tribe of Paraguay. Profits from the ventures support the program’s activities and various other philanthropic organizations.

Montecito Bank & Trust became involved in 2007 when Chris Morales, a financial advisor in the $1.2 billion-asset community bank’s wealth management department, taught a Junior Achievement economics program at the school. After the program ended, Morales continued his involvement.

He now spends an hour a week teaching the Dons Net participants about ethics issues related to economics.

Other Montecito Bank employees joined Morales in subsequent years. Will Freeland, a business intelligence manager at the bank, spends an hour a week teaching the students about profit analysis, order management and other business skills. Aguilar coaches the student leadership team at Dons Net and teaches financial literacy. The bank’s social media team helps the students develop those skills. And three or four times a year the bank’s CEO, Janet Garufis, speaks with students about business and attends their events.

The partnership has improved the students’ lives, according to Lee Knodel, the teacher at Santa Barbara Senior High who runs the program.

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of my ‘gang’ kids walk up to Mr. Morales and shake his hand after class,” Knodel wrote in a letter about the bank’s involvement. “They talked for quite a while … . That kid is now going to college, wears completely different clothes. … Together, Montecito Bank & Trust and the Dons Net Café have changed many lives.”


Ed Avis is a freelance writer in Illinois.

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