Their teen and youngadult years typically are a pivotal time for students. Karen Wolthuis hopes their decisions can be simplified by a program offering them a range of tools critical to their future.
Project NorthStar’s Financial Literacy Program serves at-risk students and young adults ages 14-24 throughout Kent County at 19 sites, including high schools, alternative and secondary education schools.
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As a teenager in Louisiana, Pilcher by her own admission made bad decisions, lacked education and direction, and had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. She admits she frequently engaged in “not very adult-like things.”
Funded by a $10,000 Steelcase Foundation grant and piloted at Cedar Springs High School, the program, which partners with Michigan Works!, teaches youngsters everything from balancing a checkbook to handling life’s unexpected problems and finding suitable housing. “Get Real” events provide volunteers who answer questions as complicated as banking, housing options, managing utilities and medical expenses, or as common as purchasing groceries and clothing.
Wolthuis, Project NorthStar’s director, said it’s not uncommon for youngsters to fail to grasp how to get to college, run a household or how to manage money — all crucial information in navigating an increasingly difficult world.
“It’s more complicated now,” Wolthuis said. “It used to be simpler. Now it takes a lot more for kids to work their way through some of these things.
“Sometimes kids aren’t aware of things like insurance, what things cost or predatory lending,” she added. “The landscape has changed.”
The Financial Literacy program identifies the needs of youth and builds relationships with them by providing information on a wide range of topics. Case managers are available at all 19 county sites to help students overcome barriers such as homelessness, poverty and pregnancy. Follow-up services are offered for one year after exiting the program.
Steelcase Foundation President Julie Ridenour said it’s important for businesses to work with programs such as Financial Literacy to help a high-risk population of students in danger of dropping out of school. Such efforts can help them with behaviors outside the classroom that equally impact their success after high school, Ridenour said.
“For many of these students, these money management courses provide an introduction to concepts which include working with banks, how interest works, avoiding predatory lenders, and the significance of credit ratings,” she said. “The Steelcase Foundation is happy to have the opportunity to encourage the work of Kent Intermediate School District in preparing NorthStar students for post-graduation success.”