Many people struggle to understand everyday financial issues; however, this problem is particularly acute for those without college degrees or professional jobs. Part of our work at Eagle Ridge involves an educational component as we help clients understand how to best navigate their unique financial challenges. We wanted to broaden our work in the financial literacy space beyond our client base to assist those with much less access to resources. Therefore, over the past year, we searched for charities in Fairfield or Westchester County to partner with to provide financial literacy education.
During this process, we developed a relationship with Mitch DePino and Domus. Domus is a charitable organization that works with young people facing adversity. They build relationships and provide life skills to underserved youth in Stamford, Connecticut to empower them to succeed. The organization sponsors a program for at-risk children in the school system and another one focused on workforce development for young people from 18 to 25 years old. Mitch is the Director of the Workforce Development team, and he suggested doing a condensed financial literacy unit with the young adults in his program.
The goal of the Workforce Development program is to help young adults attain and retain full-time jobs that will lead to them becoming self-sufficient. Domus accepts roughly ten people into this program which they run three times a year. After an Orientation (two weeks of intensive job/life skills-training for which each participant receives a stipend upon completion), Domus hires the participants to work four days a week at one of their business enterprises. The fifth day is spent in the classroom for both coaching, and educational and vocational training. Mitch and his team then work with the group members to find full-time employment in the outside workforce. Many of the group have experienced trauma, come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have served time in jail. While in the program, each participant is assigned a case worker to help with a myriad of services that many of us take for granted such as getting a valid state issued identification card.
This Fall, we worked with our first group of young people for three weekly sessions after their orientation. Our goal was to introduce them to a few basic financial concepts and help them understand how these issues applied directly to their lives. Our curriculum covered Banking and Credit, Budgeting, and Basic Investing. None of the participants had a bank account and all appeared to rely on check cashing services whenever they needed funds. We had lively conversations around such topics as building credit and the economics of their work. For example, one young woman who already had a part-time job at Victoria’s Secret, was interested in learning more about how the profits her individual store earned related to her paycheck. This led to a conversation about the overall operation of the company and even stock ownership.
At the outset of each meeting, Mitch went around the room (including us) and asked everyone how he or she was feeling, their goals for the day and who they could recruit to help them reach those goals. If someone said that they were going to look to the whole group or any individuals in the program to meet their daily goal, the response was “we got you.” There was a true feeling that all members of the program were looking out for each other to support them. When someone didn’t understand our discussion associated with credit, a young man jumped in and said, we’ll talk, you’ll get it, it’s just the language that’s tripping you up. That community element and support appeared woven into the fabric of the program.
Based on the extremely positive feedback that we received, we will do a follow-up “question and answer” session with our first group of participants before they finish their six-month run. We enjoyed our sessions with the team and are excited to work with Domus on an on-going basis. It was encouraging to feel that we may have made a small difference in these individuals’ future and we are looking forward to teaching the next (and future) groups these vital concepts. We understand that the need for ongoing financial literacy is tremendous, but it has been very rewarding to work with Domus to help support their efforts.