Financial literacy shared with Soboba youth

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Soboba Tribal Administration’s Financial Analyst Lenell Carter interacts with Soboba youth during the first of five weekly Financial Literacy 101 classes he taught. Valley News/ Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians
Special to Valley News

Soboba Tribal Administration’s Financial Analyst Lenell Carter recently completed teaching a five-part course on Financial Literacy 101 offered to Soboba youths. The most important lesson they were taught was that you are never too young to learn how to create a healthy financial future.

“My financial literacy skill set was noted during my interview process over two years ago but due to COVID the class was delayed,” Carter said. “Tribal Council decided that as we were coming out of the pandemic, we would be able to move forward with the course.”

Carter brought a unique perspective to his presentations, having experience teaching similar financial literacy classes for other Southern California tribes.

“I feel good about the material and I want the participants to feel my passion about this subject matter,” Carter said. “I tell them my story and let them know that ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know’ about the topic of personal finances even after graduating with an accounting background. I was once like them and needed to find the resources to help me navigate these topics, alone.”

Each participant received a “Building Native Communities, Financial Skills for Families” workbook by First Nations Development Institute and Oweesta, who created the curriculum to “enable community members to realize their traditional values by learning financial skills that will help each person make informed financial decisions for themselves, their family and their community.”

“The reason I like this book is that the format goes through some of your history and how your ancestors used financial literacy,” Carter explained during the first weekly class. “The beginning chapters are about how your ancestors used (traditional) resources that were available to them, like acorns. That is financial planning in a nutshell.”

Tribal Controller Ken Alfaro was invited to one of the classes to discuss budgeting for the tribe and how it translates into everyday life. Sarah Merritt, branch manager of the American United Federal Credit Union at the Soboba Reservation, was a guest speaker on a class about using financial services tools to help navigate day-to-day transactions and using them to help a person achieve their short- and long-term goals.

“Sarah was great,” Carter said. “She emphasized personal service to members, and she provided a plethora of information on the actual services the branch offers to the community.”

Another advantage to hearing from Merritt is that all participants who successfully completed the course received a $50 voucher from the credit union to open a savings account there, which was matched by Soboba Tribal Council with an additional $50 to help them jump-start their own financial future. They also received a $25 incentive from Soboba Tribal TANF.

Vice chairperson Geneva Mojado provided encouragement to the participants at the first session, as did Tribal Executive Officer Steven Estrada.

“We want you all to build a strong foundation and venture out, go to school, meet new people and see the world,” Mojado said. “Ask questions and let us know what else you want to learn about. This is a pilot program and we might possibly make it a requirement in the future. Being the first ones in it puts you ahead of the game. There is a lot to learn so be proactive in making the right decisions and stay headed in the right direction.”

During the program, Carter discussed income, expenses, budget, savings (both long- and short-term) and taxes. Active participants throughout each session were rewarded with gift cards, encouraging more interaction.

Shayna Silvas-Thomas, 19, said she was glad to learn about all the financial things she’ll need to know when she’s in college. Luisa Rivera, 15, enjoyed learning more about the local credit union and how it differs from a bank.

“I liked that the classes were so interactive; it kept my attention,” Leandro Silvas, 14, said. “I learned a lot of new things.”

Tribal Council is also exploring the idea of starting financial education classes for young adults, students at Noli Indian School at the Soboba Reservation and community adults. This recent pilot program was designed to gauge interest in specific topics and determine how viable and valuable such a course would be for different sectors of the Soboba community.