The definition of financial literacy is “the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being.” RISE Foundation, a local nonprofit, has been committed to addressing that issue since its inception in 1999 and subsequent charter in 2000.
“RISE was born to raise expectations above poverty, bankruptcy, and foreclosure; above unemployment, crime, and self-destruction; and above depression, anger, and apathy,” says the foundation’s president and CEO, Linda Williams. “RISE was initially designed to help Memphis public housing residents achieve financial self-sufficiency, thereby making the city a healthier place. Through community support, we’ve expanded tremendously over the years to serve a broader demographic.”
One of the ways RISE has been able to broaden its reach has been through cultivating community partnerships. International Paper, one of the for-profit businesses with which RISE has collaborated, shares the foundation’s goal and vision of empowering people to be self-sufficient by building and sustaining human and financial assets. The Goal Card program that IP supports targets inner-city youth. IP staff serve as volunteer coaches/mentors, overseeing each nine-week review of report cards with youth. The mentors’ support includes giving points to the youth based on their grades, school attendance, and conduct. Students are introduced to concepts such as wants versus needs and how delayed gratification can be helpful in meeting financial goals. Points can be redeemed for items students need or they can accumulate their points all year, with interest provided, like savings accounts.
The partnership between RISE and IP came about thanks to the success of Save Up, an individual development program for adults that started in the 38126 ZIP code, which has one of the highest poverty areas in the city. It expanded into other areas, Williams says, and “now our Goal Card participants, with whom we work in conjunction with IP, are students in grades 5-12 at Booker T. Washington Middle School and High School, LaRose Elementary, Cummings Elementary, and Bellevue Middle School.”
She says there was a need to incentivize students toward academic achievement, school attendance, conduct, and developing goal-setting skills in those areas. “Memphis has one of the highest poverty rates of any metro area in the nation,” Williams says, “and students served in the Goal Card program traditionally live in public and subsidized housing in the poorest areas in Memphis. The cycle of generational poverty can be broken with financial literacy. The challenge is keeping those youth focused on high school graduation and moving towards post-secondary education. Our purpose is to prepare them socially, academically, and economically to enter the work force, and this preparation enhances the students’ capabilities to earn livable wages.”
Paul Blanchard, IP’s vice president, supply chain industrial packaging, says, “International Paper strives to be a force for good in our communities. We make sustainable investments to protect and improve the lives of our employees and mobilize our people, products, and resources to address critical needs in the communities where our employees live and work. International Paper is proud to support the efforts of the RISE Foundation.”
RISE’s partnership with IP involves an ongoing effort by both organizations. Williams says the hope is that their partnership will serve as a model and challenge other for-profit businesses to establish relationships with other inner-city schools. When asked about the future, Williams says RISE is planning to continue this partnership with IP, creating similar partnerships between schools and other businesses in high poverty neighborhoods.
Ricco Mitchell, senior program coordinator for the Goal Card program, says, “Since 2003, International Paper has been a primary supporter of Goal Card. Not only does IP provide funding for the program and incentives but they encourage their employees to become Goal Card coaches. Our coaches provide knowledge about the for-profit sector and lend insight and counsel beyond financial literacy to our youngest program participants.”
RISE’s goal is to transform lives by improving financial literacy. “Our most vulnerable citizens have real opportunities to change their lives when given the tools and techniques to make better choices with their financial resources,” Williams says. “It is in the best interest of our community for more people to become and remain self-sufficient. The overall goal is to make a difference in the lives of our low-income neighbors. We don’t offer a quick fix, but rather we teach skills that are intended to last a lifetime.”
For more information about the RISE Foundation, visit risememphis.org or contact Linda Williams at [email protected]