Eighteen year old Sierra is a veteran of the foster care program and a local high school senior. Through Opportunity Passport™, a program of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Phoenix, she has strengthened her financial skills and moved closer to her financial goals.
Opportunity Passport™ helps current and former foster youth ages 14-26 with financial literacy classes and a matched savings program. It is a privately funded national support group for young people who have experienced foster care. The IRC in Phoenix runs the only Opportunity Passport™ program in Arizona.
“I appreciate that Opportunity Passport™ exists because it allows foster youth like me to gain experience on stuff like budgeting and planning ahead for the future. They even have a program where they help you purchase a car,” Sierra said. “They helped me start up my own debit card and have a savings account.”
To be eligible, a person must have spent at least 24 hours in foster care. Both refugee foster youth as well as U.S. born foster youth may participate. Sierra was in foster care for about a year when she was in kindergarten. Then, in 2016, she was again placed in foster care. At 18, she has aged out of the program but voluntarily remains in a foster situation until she heads off to college.
Twice a year, Opportunity Passport™ offers a survey to eligible young people. Taking the survey pays off – each participant gets a $40 incentive. Taking the survey also qualifies them as Opportunity Passport™ participants. Data collected from this survey allows the IRC and Opportunity Passport™ to gauge the progress of participants.
Opportunity Passport™ clients can expect to be on the waiting list for about six months. Once in the program, participants take an eight-hour financial literacy course. They are immediately rewarded with $140 to open a banking account.
By saving up to $3,000, they can get a dollar-for-dollar match for transportation, housing, or other critical life needs. Many Opportunity Passport™ participants use the match for a down payment on their first car or their first month’s rent for an apartment.
For Sierra, Opportunity Passport™ was recently able to help her cover the registration cost for a DECA conference, an academic event that she attended. DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. Educational expenses like these can also be matched through Opportunity Passport™. Other match categories include credit-building, health expenses, business costs, and participant-specific needs.
“I think it is awesome how they match your savings up to $3,000,“ Sierra said. “I intend to save up for a car.”
There is no shortage of need. Opportunity Passport™ currently serves 205 people. That’s about one percent of the 20,000 eligible people in Arizona.
Of those in the program now, most – 154 – are girls or women. Most participants are Hispanic, African-American, or mixed race. The median age is 20-21.
Opportunity Passport™ is a privately-funded program. It is part of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Arizona program is licensed to Children’s Action Alliance and operated by the IRC in Phoenix.
Among the many local partners are the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Arizona Friends of Foster Children, and The Priztker Foundation (via Foster Forward).
Sierra’s experience is an example of how Opportunity Passport™ can empower participants.
“I have worked tremendously hard to get to where I am now,” Sierra said.
She also appreciates the help she gets from Opportunity Passport™.
“I would most definitely recommend Opportunity Passport™. I recommended it to my sister, my other friends in foster care, and other people at workshops that I’ve attended,” she said.
Story by Dennis Godfrey.