Inside Track: Brown spreads his passion for personal finance

Dondreá Brown’s first exposure to financial literacy was in the foster care system; now he has taught these concepts to more than 2,000 young people. Courtesy of Doug Sims Photography

Dondreá Brown might never have walked his current path if it weren’t for his lack of access to personal finance concepts in his early years.

Brown was one of six children raised by a single mother who he says did “an amazing job” raising her family, but lacked the knowledge to pass on when it comes to money management or wealth building. Money was scarce as a child, and Brown spent much of his time and energy trying to figure out how to access resources.

Around his junior year of high school, Brown entered the foster care system, where he said he learned more about the “haves” and “have-nots” of this world. His host family gave him the opportunity to travel and get scholarships, and he learned a bit more about finances from them.

But it wasn’t until his freshman year at Kent State University in Ohio, when his student loan debt started piling up, that he began to get some serious training in matter of budgeting. This happened apparently by chance, when he took a sociology course on poverty and his teacher, Richard Serpe, offered to guide him.

“There were 100 students in our class, and he was talking about generational wealth and all these things, and he was like, ‘If you’re interested in building wealth, stay after class. He said: “I request this every year and only 1% usually engage with me.” I was that 1%,” Brown said.

Serpe quickly became Brown’s supporter and mentor, teaching him how to better manage his money and helping him set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

“He was, for me, a pivotal point in becoming more empowered and aware of financial literacy and education,” Brown said. “Then from there, I started learning, observing, and creating my own models of financial literacy.”

DONDRÁ BROWN
Organization:
1428 Financial Wellness, Young Money Finances
Position: Founder and CEO, Founder and Executive Director
Age: 33
Place of birth: Columbus, Ohio
Residence: Great Rapids
Family: Seven children: Saniya Brown, Nadia Brown, Aniylah Rogers, Jaden Brown, Myah Brown, Jaliyah Brown and Carter Wallace
Business/community involvement: Camp Blodgett Finance Committee Member, Dwelling Place Resident Engagement Committee Member, To College Through College Retention Committee Member, Director of Student Support Services and Center for Opportunities, Resources and Excellence at Aquinas Middle School.
Biggest career break: When he decided to create two organizations: the non-profit organization 1428 Financial Wellness and the non-profit organization Young Money Finances.

Brown received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education with a specialization in teaching from the Kent State program, and he is currently working on a doctorate in cultural foundations.

He said he never lost his passion for helping people learn how to build generational wealth. He became a Certified Financial Education Instructor in 2013; moved to Grand Rapids in 2017 for a job at Aquinas College and started his business, 1428 Financial Wellness; and founded a nonprofit, Young Money Finances, also based in Grand Rapids, in 2019.

“I’ve always had the motivation and the need to really figure out, ‘How can I become the last generation that’s starting from scratch? “, Did he declare.

“My background was not in finance, but I had to become a teacher and learn about the financial world to understand how to teach finance in a non-digital way, because we know that many communities like (mine) were afraid numbers, but then, ultimately, we started to realize that it was a lot of behaviors and the lack of access to resources and accountability that impacted our ability to have some kind of control or financial management.

The number 1428 in its business name refers to the Bible verse Luke 14:28, which talks about weighing the cost before starting a project. Brown said the more he studied biblical principles that apply to financial literacy, the more he wanted to share them with families and communities.

Although 1428 Financial Wellness has no religious affiliation or requirement, it is inspired by the Bible and other books like “The Richest Man in Babylon”, and it provides a “culturally appropriate financial literacy system” that Brown developed and uses one-on-one. -coaching and workshops with individuals and families. Through 1428, Brown also partners with colleges, universities, and organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), and the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) to help to rewrite their financial education programs and improve their retention rate in class.

Two years into his business, Brown saw a growing need for a nonprofit that would remove the financial barriers preventing young people from accessing financial education. Through grants and partnerships, Young Money Finances offers virtual and in-person finance camps and workshops for youth ages 10 and up to help them become financially independent adults.

The nonprofit started with Brown, but now has eight instructors and a few support staff. Classes are taught from a financial perspective, but also from a psychological perspective, helping children understand the intersection between mental health and well-being and financial health. The program is designed to be fun and engaging, with catchy mnemonics like “plan, prioritize, and pay” and “spend, save, share, or donate” and fund management kits featuring flash cards and games.

“They call me ‘The Finance Guy’,” Brown said. “We were giving a workshop last week, and the students stayed for 30 minutes afterwards to continue playing the game while they learned about the financial terms.”

One of Brown’s ultimate goals is to introduce his financial literacy program into school systems, as well as continue to visit WMCAT and the Boys & Girls Club. He also hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar store that would have a fictional stock market floor to give kids a taste of investing in the stock market, and/or a fictional bank branch that would show how the banking system works. .

Brown said Young Money Finances has so far reached at least 2,000 people and the organization is working to expand that impact. He wants Young Money Finances to be a group of people who listen rather than assume they know what the community needs.

In August, the nonprofit organization hosted a strategic planning event and invited its board of directors, course alumni, workshop instructors, and the community to discuss the needs and how Young Money Finances can help answer them. Organizations such as STEM Greenhouse, Project GREEN (Grassroots Economic Empowerment Network), Bank of America and representatives from local juvenile detention centers were present.

Young Money Finances also featured as a vendor at several community events this year to spark conversations with attendees about building wealth. This led the organization to be appointed for a 2021 Innovation Award as part of Linc Up’s Community Spirit Awards program.

“I think the community really recognizes that we’re taking this down-to-earth, authentic approach, but we’re also innovating in our strategies for teaching financial literacy,” Brown said.

He said it’s important for financial educators to understand that financial stressors aren’t always about the money. They can also stem from mental health, employment, or academic achievement issues.

“We fully understand that there is this two-way impact of financial education and these other areas,” he said. “One of the things that we want to be able to do is address the specific needs of the community and not come in and teach something about, say, home ownership, where individuals are not in a space where they even want to own houses.”

Brown said he was proud to be able to secure funding for Young Money Finances from organizations including Heart of West Michigan United Way, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Huntington Bank.

“Receiving these funds is always a great accomplishment, but it’s even more meaningful to know that we’re teaching a student who didn’t know where their money was going, they were just spending it, and now they intentionally sit and be where they want. let their money go,” he said.

He cited other success stories such as a youngster who signed up for a credit card and maxed it out by being able to create a plan to pay off that debt, a college student who figured out how to repay his parents for tuition while still in school and good grades and a young girl who was battling depression but was able to feel relief from it after taking charge of her financial future.

Through 1428, Brown said he was working on a “train the trainer” approach that would equip teachers who feel overwhelmed and leaders of other organizations in teaching financial literacy. He would also like to one day start a charter school that covers general education concepts, but also emphasizes financial education.

Brown is also working on a book, “GOAL Getter”, where “GOAL” stands for “overcoming all limitations”.