Michelle Glassburn, president of a Howard County nonprofit… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
With a heap of recession-era tales of woe stoking people's financial fears, a free workshop for parents and teens seems like a good way to prevent costly mistakes by a generation coming of age in wildly uncertain economic times.
That's just what Making Change Center has in mind as it prepares to host the second annual Howard County Passport to Financial Literacy on Feb. 5 at Howard Community College.
Sponsored by the nonprofit organization founded in 1991 by former HCC President Dwight Burrill and now run by his daughter, Michelle Glassburn, the self-guided tour takes teens in middle and high school to 20 stations. Each presents one of the financial choices they'll face as young adults entering the workplace.
"Kids will have a sense of control as they construct an adult life for themselves," said Glassburn, who is president of the Columbia-based financial wellness center.
Participants choose their education level and career and try their hand at spending and saving for needs and wants, she said.
"This event is intended as a catalyst for future conversation around the dinner table and as an engaging way to get the ball rolling," she said.
"What are we doing as a society when we're not requiring teens to understand the importance of saving?" she asked. "A take-away lesson from the economic crisis is the need for personal responsibility."
For parents, the program is about sharing experiences and values with their kids "without resorting to opening private bank statements," added Glassburn, who received her master's degree in business administration, with an emphasis on finance, from the Johns Hopkins University.
The concept of having a passport stamped at stations manned by community-based institutions and organizations was designed by Marlena Jareaux, a local author who describes herself as "a concerned parent."
"When I was younger, no one taught me about finances at home or at school," said Jareaux, who hosted the first event in December 2009 before deciding to partner with Making Change this year. "And I made some not-so-good financial decisions because I didn't know any better."
She said she watched as friends achieved financial goals that she couldn't attain and wondered how they managed to be successful.
After a local mortgage officer with a credit score of 800 out of 850 took her under his wing, Jareaux said she "read everything about finances that I could get my hands on" and then worked to become a licensed real estate agent and a small-business owner.
She said she was surprised to learn that courses in financial literacy aren't required for graduation in Howard County.
"I love Howard County schools, so I don't mean this observation as a criticism," Jareaux said. "Few states actually do mandate this" in their high schools.
But since she couldn't fathom her 14-year-old son graduating without learning to handle money, Jareaux created the community event as a "fun and engaging way" to help bolster personal knowledge and head off costly mistakes, and based it in part on her 2008 book, "26 Financial Things to Teach Your Parents."
"You can't allow your children to go off willy-nilly, knowing reality can come back to smack them in the face," said the self-published author. Students must attend with a parent, guardian or mentor.
"This event is for parents and adults who don't feel qualified [to teach financial skills] or just don't know how to broach the subject," she said.
Patricia Brodian, who teaches classes in Career Research and Development at Centennial High, is offering her students extra credit for attending the seminar.
"This event will reinforce the living skills students will need in the world of work" and supports the lessons taught in her class, she said.
Michael Cohee, a teacher at Howard High, said he purchased copies of Jareaux's book as gifts for his second-year students, and they review its chapters in class each Monday.
Glassburn said that Howard County "has done such a fantastic job of marketing itself that many people don't realize there really are people here who are struggling."
She said that about one in five families are not meeting the "bare minimum" income threshold required to make ends meet in Howard, and that's why Making Change partners with other nonprofits, human service agencies and school systems to disseminate information on financial literacy.
"It's a big challenge to work with folks receiving public benefits and help them break the loop of dependency and make the leap to self-sufficiency," she said, noting that most of the organization's clients are low- to moderate-income families.
Gale Stovall said she took the financial classes offered by the organization at Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center when she suddenly found herself thrust into the workplace as a single head of household.
"It's going to be a long process and I feel like I'm starting at ground zero, but the classes were a blessing," she said.