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Nelson group pilots innovative financial literacy course for youth

Project seeks new ways to address youth employment
Kelsey Baerg was the coordinator and an instructor in the pilot program Basecamp, which taught financial skills for youth. Photo: Ryan Dury

Jacklyn Banman got more than she bargained for.

“I entered into it not knowing how amazing it would be, so I was incredibly surprised.”

She thought she was signing up for a financial literacy course. She got that and a lot more: new friends, new contacts, a stipend during the course, a bursary following it, a new level of financial knowledge, and a big boost in her confidence.

“Before the course I had a hard time going to banks and asking questions,” she says. “Often I worried about asking stupid questions — it was a major worry, and I found a lot of people in the course had the exact same worry. They didn’t want to feel treated like they weren’t smart. And they didn’t know what to do with their money.”

The course was called Basecamp: A Financial Empowerment Program for Youth, conducted as a pilot project by Nelson at its Best as part of its Voices of Change project, whose goal to find innovative ways to tackle poverty in rural communities.

Co-ordinator Kelsey Baerg, who was also one of the instructors, told the Star that the course, supported with a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust, ran two hours every two weeks for eight months with eight students.

Stuck in minimum wage jobs

“The majority were 20 to 25-year-old women (no men applied for the program) who were not in crisis mode but might have been stuck in minimum wage jobs, dealing with the housing crisis, involved with youth employment problems, and ready to make a change,” Baerg said.

Banman, 21, said the course load was heavy.

“We did a bit of everything. We learned about credit and credit cards and how to use it properly, managing money and budgeting, and we dabbled in the stock market, which was the most interesting subject to me.”

She said it never occurred to her that she could get into investing when she had so little money.

“I had never personally considered doing that until I took this course.”

Baerg said research shows that lack of financial knowledge is a big factor in youth being unprepared for work and adult life.

“You get trapped in the cycle of poverty because you are not able to think forward, and a lot of the strategies to create financial success are not being taught in school or by family members, so there is not so much opportunity to get out of this cycle.”

Understanding credit and interest

She said many people don’t understand the basics of credit or interest, and so end up with large credit card balances that overwhelm them.

“So we started by defining credit, understanding credit cards, understanding banking services, things to look out for. And we also talked about saving and creating a household budget because a lot of times there is a lack of intention put into spending,” she said.

Banman said that part was an eye-opener.

“Budgeting and financial management — I don’t think most people know how much they don’t know about it.”

Money and emotions

Baerg said they also talked about emotional responses to money.

“Why people spend money, understanding consumerism and how advertising affects us. If there was a month where they had a bit more money, why are they spending more money on things that are not moving their future forward?”

Baerg said the whole class was especially interested in real estate and investing and this motivated them to move through the more basic parts of the course more quickly.

Community mentors

In addition to classroom instruction, students were each paired with a business mentor in the community, someone working in a field the student was interested in pursuing. In Banman’s case that was performing arts.

Her mentor was Sydney Black, a local theatre producer and executive director of the Nelson and District Arts Council.

“She is talented and amazing and knows everyone in Nelson,” Banman said.

A bursary and a stipend

Another innovative perk of the course was a $1,000 bursary to spend on pursuing goals set with the mentor.

“Sydney had so many ideas about what I could do with the money. She was so amazing.”

Baerg said several students have since found employment in a career of their choice through the mentorships, and four will attend post secondary education this fall.

Students also got a monthly $400 stipend so they could save some money during the course and use it to practice their new-found skills in real life.

Math skills lacking

Rose Hoher, also a course instructor, found many students lacked basic math skills, seeming to be stuck at a Grade 8 or 9 level. (Banman said this did not apply to her.)

Hoher is active in the tech sector and said she’s noticed there are very few female tech entrepreneurs.

“About four per cent of female tech entrepreneurs get venture capital dollars, worldwide. So where are all the women? We are missing another industry. I believe financial illiteracy is what prevents a lot of females from getting into those high level tech executive jobs or those entrepreneurs that need to borrow money.”

She said she thinks this starts with girls dropping out of math in school earlier than boys.

“If your math skills are not really knowing what 10 per cent of 100 is, it is going to be hard for you sitting in a room with people with high level financial literacy. Yes there are calculators, but you need to understand what they are talking about.”

She said she worked at helping students connect financial literacy with the kind of lifestyle they want.

“Everybody wants a house [in Nelson], half a million, nicely renovated. If you are 20 you can’t get that unless your grandmother is giving you money or you win the lottery. So if I was 20 I would buy a trailer in Salmo for $20,000 and live there for maybe two years, fix it up, maybe sell it.”

Hoher said as soon as the course material got to investing and real estate, it took on a heightened level of energy.

“I am still feeling the effects of the course,” said Banman. “I never thought it would have such an impact on me. That web of people that will last forever, the mentor and the people she got me in contact with, the students, the instructors.

“I feel like I know Nelson so much more. What a great feeling.”

Rose Hoher, one of the financial literacy instructors. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Jacklyn Banman was one of the students in Basecamp. “I am still feeling the impacts of this course,” she said. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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