Fueling Family Ambition

August 12, 2014 |


Tinea Rochelle works a full time job while raising two kids: Malik, 19, and Keleyia, 12. They live in Hyde Park, an urban community in Boston.  Tinea never attended college herself; she secured a job at John Hancock straight out of high school. But she knows that her children face a different world than she did at their age. Today, Tinea knows, a college education is necessary for her kids to thrive.

The knowledge that a college degree is an important asset in today’s economy is a good first step toward economic stability, but many parents and students are rightfully dissuaded by the exorbitant cost of college. The complex financial aid application process does not help either. This is where organizations like FUEL Education can make a difference.

FUEL Education is a nonprofit dedicated to providing low-income and under-resourced parents with the college access information and financial literacy they need to support their children’s dreams of higher education. The families are from diverse backgrounds, the majority being Hispanic (52%), and African American (33%). The remaining 15% are Asian, Caucasian, and multi-ethnic. Parents get this important information at monthly FUEL workshops, where a warm dinner is served for free. The pre-workshop meals produce an environment where families can connect with each other, share their experiences, and learn the college process together. This sense of community is important, especially for parents like Tinea, who have no experience with college. “The whole [college application] process can be really overwhelming for any parent. FUEL really helped take the edge off,” Tinea said. “It’s important to just take the time and just go learn.

FUEL Education encourages families to save toward college by helping families open a savings account (often their first), offering incentives for families to make monthly deposits, and then matching the families’ savings. The monthly workshops also include financial education, which is an invaluable asset for parents. FUEL Education’s model is based on two research findings:

1) Children do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more when schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning and
2) Children with as little as $500 or less in college savings are three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate than those without.

Tinea has never missed an opportunity to support her kids, whether in their academic lives, their after-school activities, or their participation in Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. That’s why, when the opportunity to join FUEL Education arose, Tinea pounced on it. While she recognizes the difficulty of navigating a busy schedule, she finds herself urging other parents to make time for the FUEL Education program and embrace the opportunity to help shape their children’s futures.

After three years of participating in FUEL, Tinea is preparing to send her son Malik to Western New England University this fall, where he plans to study sports management. During her years in the FUEL program, Tinea saved $900 toward the cost of Malik’s education, which FUEL Education matched with an additional $900. Through FUEL workshops, Malik and Tinea also learned important strategies that decrease the cost of college; such as filling out the FAFSA correctly and on time to receive Federal financial aid, prioritizing subsidized federal loans over private loans, minimizing the need to borrow loans by looking for and applying to relevant outside scholarships, and comparing what institutional aid colleges have to offer. In the meantime, Tinea had the opportunity to become part of a strong community of parents who support each other in their efforts to coach their children towards a better future. Tinea adds: “If you go the distance for your children, they will see it and they’ll relish that and they’ll go the distance and follow your example.”

To read more about two-generation approaches and asset-building, check out Ascend Fellow Andrea Levere’s blog on child savings accounts.

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