Young people who face economic challenges — foster children and youth from historically underserved populations — can learn how to improve their financial futures for free.
DevNW is a nonprofit that provides resources and services on financial wellness to communities in the Northwest. Since 2015 it has developed youth-specific programs to help with credit building, homeownership, creating access to funds and more.
“We’re definitely very grounded in helping people work towards things that are becoming increasingly more challenging,” says Ross Kanaga, financial innovation manager for DevNW.
As the financial innovation manager, Kanaga manages most of the financial wellness programming. He also teaches some of the programs along with HUD-certified financial counselors. Young adults, 16 and older, qualify to take part in these programs.
The youth programs are focused on working with those who “come from historically underserved or marginalized populations,” Kanaga says. “We work with youth who are experiencing a variety of challenges economically.” Such challenges range from experiences in the judicial system, aging out of foster care and experiencing housing insecurity to the economic as well as social impacts facing historically marginalized populations.
The classes are offered in-person or virtually, and one-on-one help with financial counselors is available. In the classes, youth explore ways to learn money management, create savings goals, build credit and make decisions about loans. Students also strive to understand their own financial tendencies and personal and educational goals.
“I was in foster care my whole life,” Marisa Cabrera, 21, says. “And so having those resources and learn things that I didn’t basically learn from a parent, those were helpful and very beneficial.”
Cabrera began working with DevNW around the time she was 18. And a little over a year ago, she started in the WIOA (Workforce
Innovation and Opportunity Act) Youth Financial Foundations and the Individual Development Accounts (IDA) programs. The courses touch on money management skills for saving up for significant investments such as buying a car and higher education. Those who partake in the IDA must complete 16 hours of education and create a budget and savings plan, while also providing a 5-to-1 match to one’s savings up to a certain limit.
Cabrera also did one-on-one coaching with a financial coach. She was referred to DevNW by her Lane Behavioral Health therapist, who was helping her find different resources and programs to get involved with.
Youth are referred to DevNW through numerous partner organizations so that young adults can engage in the programming at no cost. DevNW also has membership options for the general public to participate in unlimited classes with a $75 annual fee for each household.
Part of the goal, Kanaga says, is to plant a seed and interest in learning about finances beyond the class and apply it to your life.
The programs are built like classes with interactive activities and financial knowledge-based learning. “I didn’t really understand credit completely,” Cabrera says. “And once I took the class, I was able to understand it and build my credit. And I was able to buy a car.”
She’s a full-time student at Lane Community College and a full-time nanny for two kids. The programs helped her pay for school supplies and books. “I recommend it to anyone that has the option to do it,” Cabrera says.
DevNW hosts Youth Financial Foundations program May 8 through 11 in person at 212 Main Street in Springfield. More info at devnw.org.
This story has been updated.