Monday, August 17, 2009

HopeBanks Bailout America's Youth

When I was 20 years old I was determined to go to a good graduate school (out of Louisiana) and get a PhD in psychology and then a great job. I had good grades, adequate test scores, and strong letters of recommendation. Trouble was, I did not know how to type (makes filling out 15 applications challenging), I was a poor writer (my essays were atrocious), I had rarely been out of Louisiana, and I had never been on a plane. To make my dream come true, I had to take a risk and let lots of people know about my goal. I had to ask folks to invest in my goal by sharing their resources with me. People stepped up by typing my applications (while I was learning to type), helping me answer questions about myself and my future (and proofing and reproofing my essays), giving me the confidence to apply far and wide, and donating an airline ticket.

I was lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in me and in my goal. Over the years I have wondered how other young people with big goals get people to invest in them. It just might help to have a formal way to connect young people with big dreams with the resources from caring adults. What would happen if we opened a HopeBank in every community?

Local HopeBanks would create opportunities for community members to invest in the future of local youth. A HopeBank links young people with clear goals for their future with the resources from community members. Community members invest in young people and their ideas by linking personal resources (specifically time, talent, knowledge, and skills) to the needs of the youth. As a member of a HopeBank, an individual or a small group of committed adults open a HopeBank and solicit investment ideas, or goals for the future, from youth through schools and youth organizations. A representative of the HopeBank works with youth to refine these goals to make them specific and additive, with very clear markers of progress and an attainment timeline. The goal and a list of resources needed are then posted on the HopeBank website which is reviewed periodically by members.

Imagine that a company of 2000 people opens a HopeBank in their community. 50 employees sign up as members of the bank and they solicit investment ideas from youth in schools within a few miles of the workplace. Dozens (maybe hundreds) of accounts are opened by youth by submitting goals that are then refined with the help of the bank manager to make them more attainable; the revised goals are then posted. At that point, bank members (i.e., the investors) attempt to match their resources with the needs of local youth. For example, imagine if a student submits this proposal, “Soon-to-be first generation college student needs help preparing for entrance exams and writing college essays.” The HopeBank manager would help the student clarify the goals, the timeline, and the assistance needed. Upon posting, members could work through the bank manager to offer time, talent, knowledge, and skills needed to help the student get into college. Accounts would be updated online (for members and account holders to see) and return on investment in youth will be tracked over time with updates from young people and members.

Open a HopeBank in your community. Find local kids with big goals and invest in them.