Some of the best learning experiences happen outside of the classroom.

In addition to more than 80 high schools, our volunteers bring financial literacy lessons into a dozen community-based organizations (CBOs). For the last two years, we’ve been able to partner with PEARLS for Teen Girls, a fantastic and uplifting resource for teenage girls in Milwaukee. While we’re grateful for every connection we get to make with teenagers and our “money smart” lessons, the group at PEARLS makes a particularly good fit. Elizabeth Mueller, the College and Career Readiness Coordinator at PEARLS, explained it like this: “We can’t be an expert in everything at PEARLS, but what

[Make A Difference] works on aligns so perfectly with how we’re trying to help the girls achieve their goals and dreams. If you don’t have a bank account and know how to support yourself, it’s hard to move ahead with these great dreams to become a nurse, or go into criminal justice.”

We visited the PEARLS office recently – including a review of their impressive, peer-chosen “PEARLS Girls of the Year” honorees – and talked with two of the organization’s engaging participants, Breeonna and Taleavia, about how their participation in our Money Coach program translated to real life personal finance actions.

Breeonna is a senior at Milwaukee Academy of Science and PEARLS for Teen Girls participant since 8th grade. By this time next year, she’d like to be on a path toward becoming a nurse, possibly at a college in Atlanta, Oshkosh or, because of her good grades, taking advantage of the MATC Promise program. However she makes her next big step, Breeonna has a good hold on her financial future. (Breeonna is pictured above with Money Coach volunteer Lauren Johnson.)

On the impact from Make A Difference financial literacy programs: “Before Money Coach, I had a really hard time saving money. Every time I saw something, I thought I had to buy it. We had a [computerized lesson] where you had to buy a car, get a house, find out where you wanted to work, and you had to balance your budget based on when you bought groceries, how far money would take you. When I first played it, I was about $500 in debt for money the next month in rent. As I kept replaying the game, I got a little better, doing things like buying foods that would last a little longer … We were able to see where we made our mistakes and think about things like ‘Are our job and a house too far apart?’, ‘Am I spending too much on food?’ ‘Is an apartment too expensive?’ I had no idea about any of this beforehand.”

On saying ‘No’ to check-cashing stores: “You shouldn’t use check cashing places. In Money Coach, I saw that when you go to the check cashing place, it adds up. When you go there, you’re losing a lot of money. That’s why I opened up my own bank account, so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Taleavia is a senior at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, where she read a self-penned poem at the ribbon cutting ceremony of that school backed by the renowned Dr. Howard Fuller. Taleavia snaps her fingers in support of her peers – and even Make A Difference donors in the room – and she’s considering studying criminal justice in college.

On sharing money lessons with her parents: “I didn’t have a bank account at first. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, how’s this going to work?’ My parents didn’t have an account either. My mom would pick me up after Money Coach and she’d ask me how it went. I’d say that it went great. When I first told her I had to open up a bank account, she said, ‘I don’t even have one.’ I’m like, ‘You need one.’ When I got my credit union card, I was proud, ‘I got my card.’ My mom ended up getting a new job at a [local] funeral home and she’s making more money, so we talked about getting her a bank account, getting her a [debit] card. The next thing you know, she came home and – bam! – she got a card.”

On putting away money now for the future: “All of the things I’ve learned in Money Coach, I’ll be taking with me. College is ridiculously expensive and that scares me, you know. My parents don’t have the money to pay for all of this for me. But this is a start for me to save money. In college, I know people are going to have fun, buy things. I learned from what other people went through, their stories of spending, and I said to myself, I’m not going to do that. In Money Coach, we track our expenses and in the future I’ll be tracking everything I’m saving and spending – well, maybe not everything (laughs). But I track now to get a feel of what my budget is and as it goes on into my sophomore year and farther, I’ll know more of what to do.”

-Transcription and intro by Justin Kern, Marketing and Communications Manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin