Program helps foster youth manage money, buy big items

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As more Hoosier children end up in the foster system, it means more of them need help transitioning into adulthood.

Over the past decade, Jennifer Jones has spent a lot of time in the offices of Indiana Connected by 25. She's now 24 years old and a college graduate, but at 14 she was in the foster system.

"They pretty much have been a big support system for me," Jones said.

The Department of Child Services refers teens to Connected by 25, a non-profit that helps youth transition out of homes and live independently as adults.

One of the group's programs, Opportunity Passport, is especially important during April's Financial Literacy Month. It focuses on teaching foster youth to manage their money and helping them buy big ticket items.

"If you think back to when you were 18, 19, 20, how did you get your first car? Or your first apartment? Probably it was your parents or maybe another family member," Director of Health and Financial Capabilities Strategies Amy Hendrix said.

Hendrix said the program has helped at least 267 youth set up bank accounts and do things like buy cars, or pay down payments on homes. It does that by offering up to $3,500 in matching grants for each purchase.

Jones' first purchase was a car to get her to and from college at IUPUI.

"I knew that I couldn’t just go spend money however I wanted to and if it’s something that I really wanted I had to work for it and save for it," Jones said.

She would later use the program to pay for braces and other dental work. Now, she has a job working with foster youth herself.

"It's kind of (come) full circle," Jones said.

Connected by 25 is hoping to raise more awareness and funding for the Opportunity Passport program. You can find more information here.