A Discussion on Mentoring and Financial Wellness for Youth Aging Out of the System

Mentorship can play a critical role in preparing transition-age youth for adulthood. According to the University of Chicago’s Chapin Center, by age 26, 36% of young people who ‘aged out’ of foster care have experienced homelessness. Further, incarceration, unemployment, and lack of access to health care among former foster youth are disproportionately worse for Black, Native, and Brown youth, as well as Queer and Trans youth. As a system, we must shift our mindset to creating opportunities and resources around prevention to give all youth the opportunity to grow into responsible adults.

ASCI had the opportunity to speak with the President of the Western PA chapter of 100 Black Men of America, Al Valentine, to discuss the power of mentorship and financial wellness, and how this organization has been successful for over 37 years in improving the quality of life within our communities across the nation.

Please explain the importance of mentoring youth, especially youth aging out of the child welfare system.

Al Valentine: We are very good at telling our young people to dream big and follow their dreams. [However,] there are pieces we forget too. One is your dreams are tied to your reality. So therefore, if your reality is only so big, then your dreams can only be so big. You dream more about what you’re exposed to. If [a] young person [is] exposed to, I’d say, a doctor, then they can dream of being a doctor. If they’re exposed to a CEO of a business, then they can dream about being a CEO. It’s not, particularly as African American youth, there’s no question why so many of our young people want to be athletes or entertainers because that’s who they’re continuously shown as successful black people.

They don’t see successful Black businessmen often. They don’t see them in their communities. So, mentoring is, to me, exposure. It is creating opportunities for them to see what their future can be. That is your job as a mentor, and that’s why it’s so important.

Mentoring is like being in a tour at a museum, right? [These youth] have never seen the exhibits before and don’t know the stories behind them. [Therefore, showing them and providing knowledge] is your job as a mentor.

Al Valentine

Our goal is to light a fuse, right? If we can get youth to understand, you’re not too young to get started, that yes there are risks, but there are ways to manage risks. One of the other things vicariously that we do, is trying to get our kids out of survival mode, which is getting through today. We’re trying to get them into a thriving mode which is, I have a future, I want to prepare for that future as well as today. And so, I need to invest in myself. I need to invest my money, I need to invest in other people, right?

[For example], investing is long-term, and that goes to the mindset for school. School is truly an investment in yourself. But it’s not going to manifest itself until down the road, right? So, start investing in your education today. Getting good grace to gain so you can invest that into a college tomorrow, into an advanced degree down the road. And we know financially that the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a better window of earning a higher income, right? So, it does benefit you long-term financially as well.

How does financial literacy play a role in this education?

AV: I am an advocate for financial literacy. One of the biggest challenges facing America in general, but also the African American community, is the lack of, opportunities created because of a lack of resources, particularly financial resources. We have a lot of great people and young folks that want to create businesses but don’t have the financial wherewithal to create that. We have people that are doing okay or well with career tracks but may never, be able to retire because they’re not using those resources correctly. So, probably the biggest factor, particularly for our youth are finances and those who don’t have a lot of resources, who don’t come from money and everything.

The biggest factor in financial success is actually time. The sooner you start, the more success you’re going to have. This other factor, particularly for young people who once again, don’t have the mentoring, and don’t have the exposure, is learning that investing exponentially growing your money, and putting your money to work for you to create long-term success is vitally important. Too many young people either aren’t exposed to it or they’re exposed to it by parents or adults who don’t understand it. Many times the number one reason for people not investing is the risk of loss. Wait, that’s risky. You can lose your money.

There are vehicles [to mitigate risk], and you mitigate risk by understanding vehicles that are out there, that are safer. Understand the power of diversifying your portfolio so you’re not putting all your fruit in one basket. So if you have some flexibility, if one thing fails, you have the other areas that are growing well. More importantly, [is] understanding how to find somebody that, you can trust to help you with this.

Black, Brown, and Native youth aging out of care disproportionately experience negative outcomes as a result of a lack of resources and assistance. How can mentorship help combat this for youth in communities of color?

AV: All kids can benefit from mentorship. I’m reminded of one of our young men that came through our program, who had [both] a mother and father [present]. He was doing really well, academically, got an opportunity to go to a private school, and went on to be successful. He actually ended up being nationally recognized as the mentee of the year. And his father came to that event when he got recognized. I remember the story of his father saying, “I got really upset with my wife when she put him in the program.” He went on to say, “I’m his mentor. He doesn’t need other mentors. I’m his mentor.” He said, “but seeing how you guys have poured into him, seeing the things that he has learned and developed that I could not give him, I understand it.” And then the father went on to join the organization.

So, I don’t exclude anybody from having a mentor. As an adult, I have mentors. We all need somebody that can help us navigate roads. It may not be as often as you get older. It may not be a career track. I have mentors to help me navigate my career. So, every young person needs a mentor, [especially] those in the foster care system. They really could benefit from a mentor, because given the circumstances the risk is higher if you’re in that system versus being at home with family. Not every family is great. So, there’s a risk [in] that [as well], you may not get the care and the guidance that you need [at home]. I get it, it grows from my understanding, it can grow substantially when you’re in the foster care system.

So, therefore, if you’re not getting it at home, where are you getting it? That is one of the things, 100 Hundred Black Men [assist with]. We are an additive to what’s already going on at home or what’s not going on in their home. There is a tremendous benefit for young people in the foster care system, to get mentoring from organizations.

It goes back to what I said earlier about dreams. I would imagine you would know, and you’ve probably heard, that some of their biggest dreams are just to get out of the system, right? And [the age] eighteen comes along, they’re out of the system. And now what, because what was getting poured into them during that period of time may not have prepared them for the next steps and everything. So that is one of the things that organizations such as 100 Black Men, can do. Once again, getting them out of survival mode and get them into a thriving mode, with the expectation you’re going to live a long life and if you want that light, there are keys to making that long life successful.

Showing up is the biggest part of it. I’m reminded that last year we were doing a series over at an elementary school. I remember there was three of us, we walked into the building and were in our suits. The kids were walking down a hall and they look at us as they’re walking past us, and they turn around and look at us again. And when we got into the room, we walked in and the kids were looking at us and one of them came over and said, “Hey, are you my teacher’s boss?”

We replied, “No. We’re here for you.” And he said, “yeah, I haven’t seen, Black men in suits before.” So, he’s never seen a black man in a suit. He gets older and he wants to do a job interview, he doesn’t know he needs a suit. Right? Representation, that’s the impact, and just by showing up you can create an impact. Now you show up and you share your knowledge, you share the roadblocks that you ran into and help them avoid it and everything. Now, you’re making that trajectory. You’re getting them to a higher altitude. That’s the type of work and the importance of the work we’re doing.

Al Valentine

For more information about the 100 Black Men of Western PA chapter please visit their website.

For other chapters of 100 Black Men of America please click the link.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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