Inside Track: Brown spreads his passion for personal finance

Dondreá Brown’s first exposure to financial education was in foster care; she has now taught those concepts to more than 2,000 young people. Photography courtesy of Doug Sims

Dondreá Brown may never have traveled his current path were it not 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 she said did “an amazing job” raising her family, but didn’t have the knowledge to pass on about financial management or wealth creation. Money was tight when he was growing up, and Brown spent much of his time and energy trying to figure out how to access resources.

Around her freshman year of high school, Brown entered foster care, where she said she learned more about the “haves” and the “have nots” in this world. His adoptive family gave him the opportunity to travel and get scholarships, and through them he learned a little more about finances.

But it wasn’t until his freshman year of college at Kent State University in Ohio, when his student loan debt was starting to pile up, that he started getting a serious budgeting education. It happened apparently by chance, when he took a sociology class on poverty and his professor, Richard Serpe, offered to mentor him.

“There were 100 students in our classroom, and he was talking about generational wealth and all that stuff, and he said, ‘If you’re interested in building wealth, stay after class.’ He said: ‘I ask this every year, and only 1% usually relate to 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 open an individual retirement account (IRA).

“He was, for me, a pivotal point for me to become more empowered and aware of financial education and literacy,” said Brown. “Then from there, I started to learn, observe and create my own financial education models.”

DONDREÁ BROWN
Organization:
1428 Financial Wellness, Young Money Finance
Position: Founder and CEO, Founder and Executive Director
Years: 33
Place of birth: Columbus, Ohio
Home: big rapids
Family: Seven children: Saniya Brown, Nadia Brown, Aniylah Rogers, Jaden Brown, Myah Brown, Jaliyah Brown, and Carter Wallace
Business/community involvement: Member of the Camp Blodgett Finance Committee, member of the Dwelling Place Resident Engagement Committee, member of the To College Through College Retention Committee, director of student support services and the Center for Opportunity, Resources and Excellence at Aquinas College.
Greatest professional break: When he decided to establish two organizations: the for-profit 1428 Financial Wellness and the non-profit Young Money Finances.

Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in curricular instruction from Kent State, and 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; he moved to Grand Rapids in 2017 to work at Aquinas College and started his business, 1428 Financial Wellness; and he founded a nonprofit organization, Young Money Finances, also based in Grand Rapids, in 2019.

“I always had a drive and a need to really figure out, ‘How do I become the last generation to start from scratch?’” he said.

“My background was not in finance, but I had to become a teacher and apprentice in the financial world to figure out how to teach finance in a non-numerical way, because we know that many communities like (mine) were afraid of numbers, but then when it came At the time, we began to realize that it was a lot of behavior and lack of access to resources and responsibility that affected our ability to have any kind of financial control or management.”

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

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

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

The nonprofit started with just Brown, but now has eight instructors and a few support staff. Classes are taught from a financial point of view, but also from a psychological point of view, helping children understand the intersection between mental health and wellness and financial health. The curriculum is designed to be fun and engaging, with catchy mnemonics like “plan, prioritize, and pay” and “spend, save, share, or give” and money management kits containing flashcards and games.

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

One of Brown’s ultimate goals is to bring his financial literacy curriculum into school systems, in addition to continuing to visit WMCAT and the Boys & Girls Club. She also hopes to one day open a physical location that has a simulated trading floor for kids to try out how to invest in the stock market and/or a simulated bank branch that demonstrates how the banking system works.

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

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

Young Money Finances also featured as a vendor at multiple community events this year to spark conversations with attendees about building wealth. This led the organization to be nominated for a 2021 Innovation Award through 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 being innovative in our strategies for teaching financial education,” Brown said.

He said it’s important for financial educators to understand that financial stressors aren’t always just about money. They could also stem from mental health issues, employment, or educational achievements.

“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 respond to the specific need of the community and not go in and teach something about, say, home ownership, where people are not in a space where they even want to own a home. households”.

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

“Receiving those funds is always a great achievement, 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’re actually sitting down and being intentional about where they want it to go. your money,” he said.

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

Through 1428, Brown said he is working on a “train the trainer” approach that would equip teachers who feel out of place and leaders from other organizations in teaching financial literacy. He would also like to one day establish a charter school that covers general education concepts but also has an emphasis on financial education.

Brown is also working on a book, “GOAL Getter,” where “GOAL” means “overcome all limitations.”