Avondale, AZ — A substitute teacher in Avondale spent $7,000 of his personal savings on his students last May.

But it wasn't for classroom supplies.

Manny Murillo, a retired public school educator who works as a substitute teacher for the Agua Fria High School District, gave $500 each to 14 graduating seniors.

He launched the unique scholarship, called the Manny Murillo Scholarship Program for Employed Students, in January.

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The senior recipients had to work at least 15 hours per week and have a savings account with a bank or credit union. At the end of the school year, Murillo matched up to $500 of the account's balance.

'It has to do with a J-O-B... or two'

His goal is to instill lessons on savings, on what it costs to get a college education and to ultimately draw students away from relying on loans.

"I teach them the responsibility of budgeting, learn financial skills, plan ahead so you don't have to rely on student loans," Murillo said. "Do your research."

According to Forbes, Americans student loan debt hit $1.5 trillion this year, with 44 million borrowers. Murillo doesn’t want his students to be part of that statistic.

"There's a way from getting from A to B, but it has to do with a J-O-B … or two," Murillo said, chuckling.

Lesson worth more than $500

Murillo knows the $500 he matches won't put the students through college, but he hopes the education around saving and budgeting will make a difference.

Like them, Murillo worked through his junior and senior years at a grocery store to help sustain his parents, who were farmworkers. Growing up, Murillo and his siblings worked in the fields in Arizona and California picking cotton, melon and other fruits.

Murillo remembers his dad “was hard-core” on savings: No credit cards. No loans. No debt.

After Murillo retired in 2007, he used his savings to buy, renovate and sell old homes. He recently closed on a deal on a home near the school. He bought a home for himself with some of the profits. Not knowing what to do with the rest, he decided to start a scholarship fund.

For now, Murillo’s program is open only to students in Agua Fria High School, from which he graduated in 1962.

“Since I’m here a lot, I recruit these kids, some that I’ve known for four years,” Murillo said. “I know their motivation, what their plans are, in many cases, I know their families.”