Setting the Foundation for Youth Financial Capability: A Conversation with Genesys Works
In July of 2017, Prosperity Now, in partnership with the Citi Foundation, launched a community of practice with five national youth workforce development organizations as part of the Citi Foundation’s Youth Financial Capability Fund (YFCF). The YFCF is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative, which supports organizations that help empower urban youth, ages 16 to 24, by connecting them to opportunities that prepare them to compete in a 21st century economy. As part of the YFCF, participating organizations went through a planning and design process to embed financial capability services such as financial coaching, access to safe and affordable accounts, and savings opportunities into their existing youth workforce programming.
In this blog post, we feature a conversation between Jabari Hasan, a Senior Program Coordinator at Genesys Works Bay Area and Antoinette Hui, a “Young Professional (YP)” who was part of Genesys Works’ program in 2017-2018. Jabari and Antoinette share their thoughts on the importance of financial capability for young people in general and the impact the Genesys Works’ integration pilot had on them specifically.
Genesys Works aims to provide pathways to career success for high school seniors in underserved communities through impactful relationships, skills training and meaningful work experience in informational technology and business operations in a corporate setting. As part of the YFCF, Genesys Works piloted the delivery of financial education, free tax preparation services and incentivized savings, and referred students to safe and affordable banking products at their Bay Area and Chicago locations.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about yourself and why you joined Genesys Works.
Antoinette: I am currently in my first year of community college studying business administration. While in high school, I was curious about my options to find money to attend college and approached my counselor who told me about Genesys Works. Though I was worried I might not be accepted, I figured it might not hurt to apply. I was nervous in my interview because I was not particularly interested in informational technology. When I was accepted I was mostly just open to learning new skills and then as time went by I got super invested in the program and wanted to nail it.
Jabari: I recall that interview with you, and I appreciated your honesty too. On the other hand, I graduated from college in 2014 and took the job that paid me the most. After working retail for a while, one morning I realized that I wanted something that did more than just fill my money bucket but filled my heart bucket too. I’ve told many people this story, but I graduated high school with a 1.9 GPA. I realize now that being a Black person attending a primarily White school, I was not able to connect with the right people and the ones who could really push me. When I found Genesys Works, I realized this was the opportunity to be the mentor I never had. I like to work with high school students because I see the value in pushing them.
How often do you talk about money within the high school internship program?
Antoinette: It was pretty often because many of us are from low-income backgrounds, so it was always on our mind. With my peers in the cohort, we talked about financial aid and ways to save responsibly. I would talk to my friends from school who weren’t in the program and try to give them a head’s up on the guidance we received in Genesys Works, because I knew many did not have access to this information. I grew up in a household where we didn’t talk about money. I was particularly interested when speakers were brought into the program to talk to us about their past money failures and what they learned.
Jabari: I made sure financial topics were present in all of our training. I was doing a lot of research, because I know there are a lot of great financial resources that already exist. I would sometimes use worst case scenarios from my own experience to illustrate other, better choices to make. For example, I felt it was important to explain the concept of living paycheck to paycheck. That it’s not just about your income level but that when you are waiting on the next check to make ends meet, you are in a precarious situation. We talked about how spending habits and savings goals should be incorporated into budgets.
Antoinette: I really felt like Jabari’s approach was not about scaring me but motivating me to prepare myself for the next financial steps in life.
What financial skills or knowledge were focused on during the program?
Jabari: I was super excited to try out some new things. [During tax season] we took young people to tax professionals [at a local VITA site] and learned a lot of cool things, such as knowing the right deductions and credits to claim. It was amazing! We invited representatives from a local credit union to talk to the YPs about building credit. I loved using the spending tracker that our Program Manager developed because it was a helpful tool to work on with the YPs.
Antoinette: It was helpful to get the new financial information and to fail in a safe space. The Genesys Works program is about learning how to be confident in the workplace and the budgeting models were helpful in allowing me to think how to modify my habits to fit my life. It encouraged me to explore new pathways and to check the ins and outs of financial services, such as how to avoid bank accounts that require a minimum balance.
Jabari: I think emphasizing that there are different budget models depending on where you are in your life is important. We are not telling them exactly what to do with their internship money. I encouraged participants to think about wealth building and savings. I felt like the tools that we used, such as the savings incentive goal and the spending tracker, allowed us to have more intentional conversations. On the other hand, it was great to see who actually saved so we can track their progress—and give them a congrats to acknowledge their work!
Antoinette: I signed up for the savings incentive. I think I would be interested to hear possible suggestions for how to use the additional money you can gain through the program.
What are some of your current financial goals?
Antoinette: I’m planning to transfer from my community college, so I am saving up to live on campus at a four-year college. Then, I plan to save up for six months to one year of rent for after college, because I know it can be an awkward period between graduation and the working world. I currently only spend money on gas and food. I luckily live in a community where food is affordable, and I do a lot of comparison shopping. As a result of the money I made while I was in the Genesys Works internship program, I now have a couple thousand dollars in my savings account and have started a retirement account.
Jabari: In the short term, I’ve paid off tens of thousands of dollars towards grad school and have an amount to get to by next year. I’ve been really focused on savings and have been strict with my budget, so after grad school I want to go on vacation. I have made a lot of sacrifices to have the long-term gain.
What do staff need to take financial capability programming to the next level?
Jabari: The staff needs to be trained on personal finance. I don’t think we need to be experts, but I think we could benefit from the level of training we have received to support high school students with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I also think we should build out programming for alumni who are in college or the workforce since they still need support out in the world. I also want more emphasis on how young people can generate wealth [not just income].
Any additional thoughts?
Jabari: I am very proud of Toni (Antoinette’s nickname) and all she has achieved, in and out of the program, and I’m glad that my personal story resonated with her.
Antoinette: It is so important to have a future goal. I have learned to take advantage of all the information that comes to me and incorporate it into my future plan because before this training, I was just going to wing it. I learned a lot about being a person of color in the workforce, and I want to share my experiences with people who might not have the opportunity to participate in a program like Genesys Works or learn about personal finance in school. The club I just launched at my college is for women of color and I want to support them like Genesys Works supported me. This program has had a big effect on me.