There's an old saying: If you give a man a fish, you'll feed him for a day, but if you teach that man to fish, you'll feed him for a lifetime. When it comes to extending that parable to handling money, truer words have never been spoken.

Money, if not handled well, can be very fleeting. Multimillionaire athletes, celebrities, and lottery winners have all wound up broke. On the flip side, there are stories of people like Grace Groner, who managed to turn a modest income into amazing wealth through prudent long-term money management.

Good habits start early
There's an enormous difference between income and wealth, and it's surprisingly easy to have a very large income, but not be able to save or invest a bit of it. Without an investing mentality, income alone will never turn into wealth. On the other hand, as Grace Groner's story showed, you don't need to earn a fortune to wind up with one, if you manage what you've got well.

That's an amazingly powerful message that, if it can be driven home to at-risk youth, can help them escape the cycle of abject poverty that may have plagued their families for generations. And it's a message that needs to get through to people early, for two critical reasons:

  • The earlier that people understand how to manage money, the longer time they have for their little bit of cash to compound in their favor.
  • It's far too easy to get trapped into financial pain in things like payday loan traps from short=term decisions made without a full understanding of the long-term consequences.

With that reality in mind, The Motley Fool has chosen Thurgood Marshall Academy as this year's Foolanthropy recipient. The academy is a Washington, D.C., charter school whose students are drawn from an area with an average per-capita income around $14,000 per year, just about one-third of the national average. For people in that situation, every penny counts, and there's not much keeping them from getting trapped in a state of perpetual indebtedness.

With Foolish financial training to go along with Thurgood Marshall's mission to provide a first-class education, these students can break free from the bonds of generational poverty. In essence, the Fool and Thurgood Marshall Academy are teaming up to teach these students how to financially fish -- so that they may eat for a lifetime.

Break the bonds that tie
One of the most powerful Foolish lessons for these students explains credit card debt, and how a $20 pizza can wind up costing $100, if financed over time on a credit card. But what happens if you take that lesson to the next level, and show what can happen to that $20 if it gets invested, rather than spent on pizza in the first place?

With a long-term perspective, the same compounding that would cause a $20 pizza to really cost $100 can turn that $20 into something far more useful -- if it's invested well. And while you may think that $20 may be too little to invest, there is one type of investment that often accepts even small-scale contributions at or around that level. They're called Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRIPs), and they can be a great opportunity for people without much cash to join the investor class.

Companies that kids may be familiar with that offer DRIPs include:

Company Initial DRIP Enrollment Minimum Optional Contribution $20 Invested for 20 Years Turned Into More Information
Hershey (NYSE: HSY) $250 or 1 Share of Stock $25 $156.89 Click Here
McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) $500 or 10 Shares of Stock $50 $287.28 Click Here
Nike (NYSE: NKE) $500 or 1 Share of Stock $50 $491.47 Click Here
PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) $250 or 1 Share of Stock $50 $157.04 Click Here
Verizon (NYSE: VZ) $250 or 1 Share of Stock $50 $65.46 Click Here
Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) $250 or 5 Shares of Stock $50 $105.47 Click Here

While they all offer DRIPs, most are not exactly the friendliest for small investors, thanks to high enrollment minimums, high optional purchase minimums, and/or investment fees.

On the flip side, 3M (NYSE: MMM) has an extremely friendly DRIP for small investors. Once you have the single share you need to join the plan, you can invest as little as $10 at a time, and the company covers all purchase and dividend reinvestment fees in the plan. Of course, kids may not know 3M products as well as they do the Disney princesses, but they have at least likely used 3M's Scotch Tape and Post-It Notes.

Simple lessons -- powerful results
Whether it's "invest even small amounts early" or "avoid paying stupid fees," if the lessons really sink in, then they're laying the foundation for true long-term financial success. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but any possible investing result is better than paying $80 in interest charges on a long-ago forgotten $20 pizza.

You don't need an MBA in finance -- or even a college degree, for that matter -- to benefit from understanding the basics of personal finance. And if this year's Foolanthropy campaign is successful, the students at Thurgood Marshall Academy will benefit enough to become successful financial fishermen. When all is said and done, isn't that all that really matters?

To learn more about Thurgood Marshall Academy, or to make a donation, click here. From now through Jan. 7, the Fool is donating $0.10 for every article comment, up to $20,000 in total. So tell us how you learned to financially fish, in the space below -- it's for a good cause, and it might make an already great program even better.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta did not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Walt Disney and 3M are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Walt Disney and Nike are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on PepsiCo, which is a Motley Fool Income Investor choice. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.