Youth camp teaches financial literacy

Nolan Ryan
John Barker, managing director of the Kresge Foundation's investment office, teaches students about finances during the Money Matters for Youth summer camp at the foundation’s headquarters in Troy on Thursday, July 19, 2018.

As a child, Gail Perry-Mason was adopted, and the Kresge Foundation funded the process that united her with new family.

Thursday, the financial expert and author paid it forward by leading students for a visit to Kresge's Troy investment office as part of a weeklong financial literacy camp.

Money Matters for Youth, which Perry-Mason founded in 1996, holds the annual camp plus year-round events on Saturdays where she visits schools to teach students how businesses operate.

"The kids are learning about stocks and getting an internship at Kresge. I hope they see Kresge and want to work here," Perry-Mason said. "I love what they do here. It all ties into the idea that you’ve never met a poor giver. The more they give, the more they grow."

Perry-Mason said she was moved to found the organization after noticing a lack of opportunities for minority students to learn about personal and corporate finance.

"I saw a camp in the Wall Street Journal; it was a ‘rich kids’ camp," she said. "There were no kids that looked like my children, my three sons, but that was a blessing because it birthed an idea."

That idea produced an educational program that seeks to "teach our youth economic empowerment," Perry-Mason says.

This week, the 140 junior high and high school students in the camp have heard from business owners, as well as representatives from First Independence Bank, Detroit Design Company and Detroit Golf Club. Topics include business concepts, interviewing skills and business etiquette.

During Thursday's session, students learned about corporate investments, real estate and debt. Speakers included John Barker, managing director of Kresge's investment offices, and Robert Uptegraff, a special lecturer in finances at Oakland University.

"Part of our work on the investment team has been to get more young people in the community get interested in finances and investments," Barker said. "I read an article about Money Matters for Youth about 18 months ago, and I realized there was complete alignment with what she trying to do and what we were trying to do."

Ethan Bryant, 12, said he wants to start his own business and his father suggested the camp could help him prepare.

"I’m starting my own business soon; it’s a comic company," Bryant said. "We need help getting started. I’m here to learn about that."

The Kresge Foundation has a $2 million fund at Oakland University and Wayne State University to encourage students who are pursuing careers in investments, said Jennifer Kulczycki, director of external affairs at Kresge. Students who go on to this field of study are able to practice investing with these funds.

The majority of the camp's students are from metro Detroit, but a few students have come from Ohio, South Carolina and Georgia, according to Pam Courtney, a volunteer from Wisconsin.

"(Perry-Mason) has reached beyond her borders," Courtney said.

She heard about Money Matters for Youth while watching a feature broadcast on Perry-Mason. She says it inspired her to call the group and ask how she could help, which led to her traveling to Michigan for the week.

"Gail has a vision to teach youth about investing. This is an investment for the future," Courtney said. "She is a visionary person. She has wonderful ideals for youth."