“There’s a need in the Des Moines area for professionals to go into insurance…I don’t think young people are aware that it’s a viable career opportunity.” Michelle Kulish Danielson mentors a high school freshman through Community Youth Concepts mentoring program in downtown Des Moines. Despite being the insurance capital of the US, Michele says that young people who live here don’t often consider insurance as a job option. She decided to get into mentoring to not only help a young girl pursue her dreams, but also open up opportunities at her company for young people to learn about insurance and get involved.
Michele and her mentee Kelly have been matched since October 2016. When they first started meeting, Michele noticed that Kelly did not have a planner, paper, or a computer at home with which to organize or even do her homework. She bought Kelly a calendar to “give her the opportunity to understand where she is on assignments and help her be more self-directed.”
Since then, Kelly has taken the suggestion to record goals on her calendars and has been following through on class assignments, as well as on goals for herself. The two have been goal setting as well. When Kelly shared her interest in violin, but didn’t have a teacher, Michele reached out to her neighbor, who plays violin. She set up some lessons between the two, and Kelly has been able to take her love for violin to her school orchestra.
During the process of planning Kelly’s next several years at Roosevelt high in terms of courses and credits needed for graduation, Kelly expressed an interest in financial literacy. Because Kelly doesn’t have access to a computer at home, Michele printed out the school’s course catalog and they went through it together. They found she needed a financial literacy class for one of her credits, so Kelly is very excited to start learning about financial literacy in the near future. When asked where she felt she was in terms of financial literacy on a scale of 1-10, Kelly candidly shared, “0.” Encouragingly, Michele responded with “That’s ok—plenty of kids are in the same place. You will master that skill.” Financial planning is a good skill to learn, but is obviously complicated by a lack of finances in the first place.
Michele continues to be impressed by her mentee’s resiliency: “To deal the challenges in her environment, to operate with 0 budget…lunch is always provided by the school. She’s resilient, she takes things in stride. She works with what she has, she keeps moving forward. And never complains.”
In getting to know Kelly and seeing the struggles she faces daily, Michele says that in terms of financial security on a scale of 1-10, her mentee’s family is in the negative numbers. It isn’t uncommon for the water to get shut off, or the electricity, or the telephone. When one week the family’s car broke down, Kelly walked an hour to school and an hour back every day. When their refrigerator payment kept them from buying other necessary household items, Michele got her friends together and they found a used refrigerator to give to the family. That’s one less payment they have to make monthly.
When asked about her hopes for continued mentoring with Kelly, Michele says, “I hope she realizes her potential. I look forward to watching her grow, and realizing her own growth and development. I want her to recognize that she’s growing and changing, and be more self-aware in that way.”
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