Money talks, but conversation and connection build memories for a lifetime

The mid-morning meetup at James Madison Academic Campus was off to a pleasant, predictable start. Five students and Principal Gregory Ogunbowale sat down with Brenda Campbell, president and CEO of SecureFutures, and four board members from the nonprofit.

After 12 years connecting southeastern Wisconsin teens to financial literacy education and coaching, the SecureFutures team was excited to step away from their programs, Money Coach and Money Sense, and get to know the students on a different level.

“Asking ‘Why do you love Milwaukee?’ was a really good place to start,” Campbell said. “We found unexpected commonalities. We went from there to discussing the city’s challenges from each person’s perspective.”

There was only one young man in the room that day, a junior from JMAC. Gesturing to a collage in the classroom featuring photos of his fellow students, he began to share their stories with the rest of the gathering, one by one.

“He was pointing at their faces and telling us what their goals were in life. He told us they faced challenges and their goals might not be in reach, but that making a connection with the business community could make a real difference for them,” says Campbell, who stops to get her emotion in check as she recalls the intense, inspiring moment. “It catches me off guard every time I talk about it.”

The young man’s talk ended with an invitation: “Come back and show us you really care.”

In the room that day was the head of JMAC’s business advisory council, who is a staff member at SecureFutures. The adviser shared that conversation with others in the business community. The SecureFutures team considered how to acknowledge the young man’s passion and perspective in future programming.

Since then, Campbell has been reviewing cultural competency training models that can be woven into the nonprofit’s training curriculum for volunteers. “People don’t always recognize they have a need for that,” Campbell explains, “but we’re looking for learning exercises that can help us meet our students halfway.”

And yes: On the Table MKE participants have made return visits to JMAC to follow up with students.
Then there is Robert. Campbell met him about 90 minutes after the JMAC event as she settled into her second On the Table MKE event of the day – lunch for a few hundred at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee.

At each table was a high school volunteer/note taker. Robert, a student from the Hmong American Peace Academy, was ready with his pen.

“If you had all the resources and human power you needed, what is one thing you would do to help Milwaukee?” was one of the final questions that afternoon.

Robert responded: “At my school we have a program called Money Coach. I would make sure all the kids in Milwaukee could participate in Money Coach.”

Campbell, who never met Robert before and hadn’t disclosed her affiliation to Money Coach during the luncheon, was stunned. “It was validating and meaningful to hear of the life-changing impact that our program had on Robert.”

Even better, she was able to personally congratulate Robert on his graduation from the four-month program in early 2018.
She’d like to work with him in the future, perhaps as a Money Coach volunteer.

“I would love that,” Campbell says, no longer speechless. “He would be fabulous.”