From Disappointment to Hope

According to one study posted by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 36% of kids who age out of the foster care system at the age of 18 become homeless. Only 58% of them graduate high school by the time they are 19, and only 46% are employed.  These teenagers are a heartbreaking group of individuals. They’ve been passed around the foster care system time and time again. Many of them have had less than stellar experiences with the homes they were placed in. Disappointment has become their normal. They are today’s orphans, left without family, without hope.

This is true in Montrose, Colorado where Carlton Mason, Chief Executive Officer of CASA of the 7th JD, established a Micro home community where foster teens can transition out of the system under the care, supervision, and guidance of adults who train and assist them in such matters as getting their driver’s license, finding their first job, and managing their finances. It was the latter need which drove Carlton to connect with Matt Evans, founder of Sound Counsel Financial Counseling.

Matt Evans is no stranger to financial hardship. In the midst of the 1980’s recession, after he’d begun his first post-college job, his family called him home to assist them with the business of selling their farm and ranch. This process opened his eyes to the need of enabling people to understand the ins and outs of financial matters. By the time Carlton reached out and asked for his help in teaching financial literacy to the foster teens, Matt had spent 34 years in the world of finance and 17 years teaching financial literacy with Crown Financial Ministries and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

“Those programs are great programs,” he said, “and I’ve seen lives changed through them, but I realized they were geared toward the middle class and wouldn’t speak to these kids.”Matt and his wife, Jennifer, knew they needed to look elsewhere. Their search led them to Money & ME’s Teen Edition. After looking over the curriculum and talking with Sara Money, Matt and Jennifer knew they’d found their program. “We decided to take the program slow and teach one hour a week, Matt said.  “We want them to really understand and grasp all the concepts.” On the first day of class, per the suggestion of Carlton, Matt gave each student $10 with two caveats: they had to give an accounting of how they were going to spend it, and they couldn’t spend it on drugs.

All but one of the students chose to save it. The one who used it had added it to his other savings to buy a hard-bottomed backpack in which to carry his trade school tools.  It was a strong start and set the tone for the following weeks. In one of the classes, as the students were working on their budgets, Lauren, the teens’ case manager, interrupted the session to make an important point.  “How many of you have put your habits on your spending plan?” she asked. None had done so, for some of those habits were not great ones. “You need to be honest and list everything you spend money on,” she insisted.  They did as she recommended. Even the bad habits were listed.

Matt’s heart shone through his words as he recounted his experience with these young people. “I was told not to expect too much from these kids who had been through so much, but they truly engaged faster than I thought. Though most of them barely graduated and are maybe at an 8th grade reading level, they got it almost immediately.”  Although it has only been three weeks, Matt has already seen changes in the students. “They’re realizing they can do this. They’re getting it, building confidence, starting to understand what money management is and how it can work for them. They’re starting to have hope in life.”  Concerning the Money & ME curriculum, Matt stated, “It speaks in a different language. It uses terms like money owed vs. debt. The students didn’t have any concept of debt, but they connected with the idea of money owed.”

Matt’s goal by the end of the program is for each student to have a savings account with $500 in it. He also plans to pitch the adult versions of the curriculum in the city of Montrose and to Delta County, which is the 3rd poorest county in Colorado. In addition, he is talking with the community college about teaching the Spanish version. “Money & ME speaks to the poor,” he told me. “It helps them feel like there is hope and direction in their life.”  There is no doubt that God is using this program to reach people and make a difference in their lives. Please pray for Matt, Carlton, and the young men and women they are serving.