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Financial outlook brightens for at-risk youth

BY SHELDON GORDON | JUN 08 2010

Most Tuesday mornings, Adaora Agu, a third-year marketing major at Ryerson’s school of management, travels to Scarborough to visit Rosalie Hall, a resource centre and shelter for 25 teenaged single mothers and expectant mothers. Ms. Agu’s mission: to make them savvier about personal finance.

“Switching from brand-name products to no-frills is one of the key ways they can improve their finances,” explains Ms. Agu. She teaches the young mothers to make baby food from fruits and veggies so they don’t have to buy the pricier prepared version. And she gives them pointers on tax-efficient ways to invest even a small amount of money: “They can each save $400 a year, and what they save goes into an RESP [Registered Education Savings Plan] for their child.”

Ms. Agu is one of 25 Ryerson students, most of them studying management, who volunteer in $tart$mart, a financial literacy program targeting at-risk youth in 14 high schools and community centres across the Toronto area. Its five-year plan is to reach 50 institutions.

$tart$mart is one of several Ryerson out-reach projects run under the umbrella of the international movement called Students in Free Enterprise, or SIFE. In May, SIFE Ryerson won a national competition for student entrepreneurs from 40 universities and colleges, judged by a panel of Canadian CEOs.

It was just two years ago that Ryerson students began $tart$mart, at Eastdale Collegiate Institute, a high school for students who are returning to school after dropping out. At first, $tart$mart held four seminars a year at Eastdale; now, its seminars are weekly.

“We teach the students about budgeting, goal-setting, credit cards and saving,” says Sara Farajian, a fourth-year management student and $tart$mart’s director. “It was hard at first to get them to open up to us,” she says. “But we’re not that much older than they are. We showed them that we’ve also been there and have overcome issues.”

Those issues can range from squandering money on cigarettes to frequent use of payday loan shops. Heavy smokers are encouraged to cut back and loan-shop users are advised to open savings accounts.

“When I was in high school, there was no program on how to budget,” says Ms. Farajian. “So I’m passionate about working with at-risk youth and helping them be pre-pared for financial decisions from a younger age than I was.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct errors that appeared in the original version.

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