The Job Foundation

Iowa / Sept. 25, 2012 / by The Team

Out of a devastating series of events, Jennifer Brost created a nonprofit that is helping young children learn about financial literacy and stay in school. 

After having her gallbladder removed, a pregnant Brost began suffering from complications from surgery. On that same morning, she found out that her father had been killed in a car accident, at which point she went into cardiac arrest. 

Brost explains that, “When I woke up on life support, I was 23, my only child was dead and my father was dead. My mom had died the year before that, my mother-in-law the year before that, and we were a wreck.”

She and her husband moved from Chicago to her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, to be near their support networks. “I knew that if we didn't have that support from the people at our church ... that we would be applying to food stamps, we would be out of our apartment,” she says. 

Brost had known as soon as she awoke on life support that she had to “do something positive because this [was] so negative.” It wasn’t until several years later after becoming very depressed and physically ill that she thought of what that ‘positive’ might be. 

“Eventually one night, I just was laying in bed, and all of a sudden it came to me. I always knew I wanted to do something but I didn't know what and it just clicked,” she explains. 

As a young child, she and her siblings “were paid for our grades,” Brost explains. “Then we were also given certain responsibilities to pay for things that might kids maybe just got handed to them. I would have to budget for my haircut, I would have to budget … right down to my toilet paper.”

Although she had been brought up with the concept of financial responsibility ingrained into her daily life, she also experienced firsthand the problems associated with a lack of financial literacy while in college. In need of a place to live for a year, Brost, who willingly describes herself as having “always been ... a stingy person,” visited the cheapest place she could find and signed the lease, cockroaches and all. 

Living in that apartment building, she saw how people would react to their finances under stress, and as a therapist, understood that the stress, and a lack of education about finances, were affecting their daily lives. 

“I would see them, they would maybe have a little bit of a windfall and get some money but that money would be blown at the movie theater or in such a way that didn't make sense to me. I didn't have cable tv, everybody else did, but I had a phone, and I was the only person in that apartment building who had a phone,” she explains. 

So when she was lying in bed thinking about what she could do to help, she thought back to that first apartment building and “felt like that was a really key thing that I wanted to be … done there.” 

This all gave birth to the Job Foundation, named after the son Brost and her husband lost. In essence, the Job Foundation is “a savings-linked conditional cash transfer program that seeks to basically end repeat financial disadvantage in Waterloo, Iowa.”

As Brost says herself, not many people know what that means. She goes on to say that, the program “is understanding that there are certain barriers that must be overcome in order to advance up the social-economic ladder.”

The Job Foundation takes children of elementary-school age in the Waterloo area and teaches them how to be responsible for their own money. Brost wanted to make sure that money went directly to the children and she thought the savings-linked conditional cash transfer program would work perfectly. 

Essentially, a child is given the chance to earn money as long as they fulfill certain conditions. These conditions include “success at school, [that] they must save some of their earnings in a savings account that will be there for them when and if they graduate from high school without a criminal record ... then that money will be used to help them establish a credit rating through a secured loan and also obtain reliable transportation.”

While some people call this “paying kids for good grades,” Brost says that’s not how they see it. “The way that we see it is that we have to set these conditions and, especially when we start with kids as young as kindergarten, a very appropriate condition is do well at school.”

This means that, “Earnings are tied to grades as they come out quarterly or by trimester depending on the school, and also their attendance and their behaviors.” Each A is worth a certain amount of money as are Bs, Cs, etc. 

Of the money they earn, 60% must be kept in a savings account and the “remaining 40% - if they choose only to save 60% - is in their checking account.” Each of these two accounts is held at separate but local banks, with the savings account accessible only once they have graduated from high school. 

Many of the children will save more than the mandatory 60%, and will even donate some of their earnings to charity. There are very few restrictions on what they may spend their money on. 

“It’s fun,” says Dominiqua Watts, age 11. “It gives me a chance to look around and just feel like experience of paying for your own stuff.”

“We do say no violent video games or profane material, and whatever it is, it's got to be approved by parents and by us,” says Brost, but there is still a freedom to their purchases they don’t otherwise get. 

The students must also take financial literacy classes with mentoring tutors, so called because “they mentor mostly through tutoring,” in which they learn about saving money, writing checks, and the importance of each financial decision they make. 

There is a strong emphasis on hard word. Each week, when the volunteer tutors meet with the children, they will spend part of the session helping the kids with their homework for the week. Then they move on to discussions about saving and spending money.

Brost is determined to show them the importance of academics and hard work, and while they might not all enjoy it in the moment, the children appreciate the time in retrospect. 

The Job Foundation gives the students they teach the chance to practice with the money they have earned. “Twice a year, the kids will take the 40% of their earnings that they can spend and they will write budgets, they will comparison shop, and they will go over to the mall or Walmart ... they will actually have a chance to shop,” explains Brost. 

The results of these trips can be surprising. Many children will spend their own earnings on supplies for their families or gifts for people other than themselves. It also gives them the chance to experience buyer’s regret and see that not all advertising is as truthful as it makes out. 

“When you get older, you’re thrown with bills and how to deal with your money but if you’ve never dealt with your own money before, how do you know how to handle it?” says Dacia Carter, a mentoring tutor with the Job Foundation. 

“You learn everything. You learn about credit, how to get a car when you’re eighteen, deposit for a home, you learn so many essential, basic things [so] that when you get older and [are] moving out of your parents’ house, you’re a step forward.” 

Since their first intake of students in the winter of 2007, they have helped over forty children, with twenty-two currently in the program. Brost says they are hoping to be able to add another twenty students in 2013 “to beef us up to about 45 and then the following year, we would hope to expand ... and add about 15 kids.”

“I still feel there's a lot to be done,” says Brost. “There's a lot to be done in terms of changing the attitude towards the financially disadvantaged ... It's in your best interest to help your neighbor and it is also a joy to get together and grow together as a community.” 

Despite the long hours, hard work, and lack of paycheck, Brost is determined that, “As long as I'm alive, it's going to keep going”, due strongly in part to the memory of her son. But it is also the reward of seeing the effects the program has on children in her community. 

“To see that kid's doing well, that family's doing better, they're on their feet a little bit more financially, and as a result, they may feel better on an emotional level and be able to perform better academically” is incredibly rewarding, Brost says. 

There’s always more to be done, more money to be raised, and more people to help but Brost feel close to the children and families she helps. “I'm proud of the work they do, I'm proud of their commitment to their own financial future, to their own academics, to their own development. It's very humbling to be part of that.”

To learn more about the Job Foundation, visit their website or Facebook page