HRA's Build Your Own Scholarship Program

CAFCA | October 09, 2013 |

Nairobi was one of nine teens who took advantage of a unique opportunity to start building her own college scholarship fund this past summer as part of the Human Resources Agency, Inc.’s (HRA) Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP). HRA’s SYELP is part of the State’s and Capital Workforce Partners’ regional summer employment and learning program. They started building their college funds by opening matched savings accounts with a portion of what they earned from their summer jobs.

Participants deposited $50 of their weekly earnings into their new savings accounts at Farmington Bank. The American Savings Foundation and the U.S. Assets for Independence (AFI)/Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) matched their $250 savings with $2,000. By the end of the five weeks each of these youth had $2,250 in their own scholarship fund.

Jeannelys Flores learned it was hard to save money. “I pay for my own clothes, fun and gas so every penny counts. I missed the extra $50 but know how important it is to save for college. You can’t just spend money on things that don’t matter, like candy. You also have to shop smarter, like looking for sales.”

HRA developed this new approach as a way to get teens invested in saving for their college education. No one in the country has done this with summer high school youth. Matched savings plans - for education, home buying, and starting a business - demand a long-term investment and commitment. They are not a quick-fix solution and part of the challenge is keeping youth engaged over the long haul.

“We designed a way to work with youth that integrates this program with other related high school and employment activities, says Marlo Greponne, Director of Planning and Programs. We’re doing it in 3 stages so it fits into other things we’re doing.”

 Step 1 began last summer (2012) with all SYELP participants completing their financial education. HRA’s staff uses the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) curriculum thatis customized for youth. The FDIC workshop fit the financial literacy component of Capital Workforce Partners’ Career Competency model.

Those who completed Step 1 last year had the chance to participate in Step 2 this year. In Step 2 they save money in a matched savings account with earnings from their summer jobs. According to Leticia Mangual, Director of HRA’s Youth Services Center, “These kids have goals to go to college and to establish a career – so they jumped at this opportunity. They realized that this investment would help them achieve their goals.”

Jeannelys wants to study marine biology and eventually do her own research at sea. She hopes to attend the University of Connecticut. “I was inspired by my Mom. She just graduated from college 2 years ago but she didn’t do it until her 40’s. It’s too important to wait that long.”

Capital Workforce Partners (CWP) made the 2013 Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program at HRA available with the generous funding from the State of Connecticut, American Savings Foundation and Peoples United. This funding subsidized summer jobs for a total of 114 youth in New Britain, including these nine teens. The American Savings Foundation and the U.S. Assets for Independence (AFI)/Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) matched the savings of those who participated this summer. The United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut also supports this project.

“Young people need incentives to study hard and save for college,” said David Davison, president & CEO of American Savings Foundation. “If they make the effort, financial support is available, and the dream of a higher education can be reached. This program helps put it all together.”

 AFI/IDA granted a special waiver to make this approach work. Normally, when people participate in an IDA plan they must save employment money for at least 6 months. AFI/IDA allowed youth participants in HRA’s “Build Your Own Scholarship” program to compress this requirement into 5 weeks to fit the length of the summer youth employment program.

Before starting, HRA staff met with teens and their parents/guardians to enlist their support.

Tyquon Wellons’ aunt/guardian, Jacqueline Stewart, wants him to learn the importance of education and savings. “I wish I had examples like these to learn from. Kids today can’t afford to not know what they want to do and they definitely can’t do it without savings.”

Farmington Bank management came out to HRA’s Youth Services Center to open savings accounts with each of the participating teens. According to Ms. Greponne, “They went out of their way to make this seamless for the kids.” Ms. Greponne went on to say that this pilot was a success because of the enthusiasm and contributions from all of the project’s partners.

Now that the summer is over, David McGhee, HRA’s Asset Management Coordinator, will work with these youth to complete Step 3. In Step 3, they will complete their education plan, a combination career and financial plan to achieve their longer-term goals. The Connecticut Department of Labor and the statewide IDA committee designed this plan so that youth understand all costs involved with a college education.

Five of the nine participating summer youth returned to high school. Marshalls hired Nairobi Lopez, one of these five, to keep working part-time after school. She plans to continue saving money in an unmatched savings account.  The other four participants graduated high school and entered college this fall. Two of them were hired by their summer employers and will continue working part-time after classes. All four are also working on Step 3 to help them complete their college education.

 Those interested in learning more about this project can visit HRA’s website at: