Creating a Passport to a Brighter Future for Vulnerable Young People

05. 14. 18

Navigating the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be difficult for even the most well-connected teenager. Consider the potential difficulties in the path to adulthood for Maine’s most vulnerable older youth (those aged 16 to 26 who are in the foster care system, have experienced homelessness or encountered the juvenile justice system). 

When considering the needs of this group, you’d be right, of course, if your first thoughts went to ensuring they have access to healthy meals tonight and no worries about where tomorrow’s meals or shelter will come from. But beyond these basic human needs, other important issues don’t always get the same level of attention. These young people need training to help enter the work force or to navigate the post-secondary education enrollment process. And they need help understanding how to manage the money they make.

One of life’s most important skills is learning how to responsibly use and manage money. And yet, financial literacy is rarely – if ever – part of any core curriculum. Adolescents may learn these skills from a parent or trusted adult, but far too many Maine’s adolescents don’t have that trusted advisor. For even more, their parents or guardians never learned about financial literacy themselves, making the path to economic success even more difficult.

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative has a program meant to make that path a little easier to follow: The Opportunity Passport program. Originally designed specifically for youth in foster care, program participants create a savings account in which approved spending on things such as education, housing, healthcare, and transportation is matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $1,000. Along the way, participants learn key elements of financial management through financial mentoring, save money and set goals for their future.

This program has been incredibly successful for Maine’s foster care youth. Between the launch in 2004 and 2016, participants saved more than $1 million.

In 2015, the John T. Gorman Foundation partnered with Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) to expand the program to include youth aged 16 to 26, who are experiencing homelessness, transitioning out of the juvenile justice system, at risk of dropping out of high school, or not successfully transitioning to college. Since its inception, the Expanded Opportunity Passport program has enrolled 75 youth who have accumulated $78,300 in matched savings. 

Building on the results of the last few years, the John T. Gorman Foundation is funding JMG’s expansion of the program to include an additional 50 youth, focusing specifically on the communities of Lewiston, Waterville and South Portland.

“So many of the youth we meet have incredible visions for their future, but for some youth making their visions a reality can feel impossible to achieve,” noted Sara Gagné-Holmes, senior program associate at the John T. Gorman Foundation. “Our hope is that Expanded Opportunity Passport will provide the financial know-how and support to help young Mainers achieve their dreams.”