Van Nuys High School juniors Tyler Chiu, 16, and Srijesh Molala, 15, launched a program, Money 101 in June, to teach other youth around the valley financial literacy and the skills necessary to build a foundation.
The idea came from Chiu, who was inspired to create the workshops after being motivated by the struggles his mother and grandmother experienced when they first arrived in the United States. As refugees from South Vietnam with little money, Chiu’s family had to survive on food stamps and the generosity of their community.
The Chiu family had to learn how to save money to stay afloat, eventually saving enough to get them out of their situation. They passed down those lessons to their son, as well as the importance of giving back to the community.
“I was really inspired by that, and I wanted to teach other people in my communities about financial issues so they could have the same opportunities as my mother,” Chiu said. “I thought that workshops and … having a face-to-face conversation and teaching is the most effective way because you get really personal with them and [build] connections.”
The other goal of these workshops is to help break the cycle of generational poverty that many in underserved communities face. Chiu said that many young people don’t have access to learn these skills elsewhere. How to handle money isn’t part of the curriculum in most schools.
“We really think that it’s important that our workshops help because we’re not just exposing them to things they’ve never heard about or things they couldn’t have learned about,” Chiu said. “We’re actually giving them information to grow their money and fight generational poverty so they can break out of this cycle, and hopefully, do the same for others and give back to the community.”
Chiu said that the most important thing when learning about finances is starting the journey and building good habits and sharing these skills with others. By passing down those habits and skills, communities can grow their own money, he said, and break out of the cycle of poverty.
While teaching these skills, Chiu has noticed many misconceptions some have about money. One of the biggest ones is that a person needs to have a lot of money and be successful before they can start investing.
“I think they see [investment] money as almost like a taboo because of their position and they don’t really like to talk about it,” Chiu said. “But I think it’s important to have this conversation so that they can learn more about it.”
The workshops take place at two locations: the Central Lutheran Church — which is near Van Nuys High School — and at San Fernando Recreation Park. Chiu and Molala have held two meetings in the City of San Fernando so far, with another three taking place every Thursday starting next week. The meetings at the church take place every Wednesday, which began this week.
Chiu noted that, while the workshops are geared toward young people, many parents have stayed to listen to the meetings and have even joined in.
“I think that’s really important – because when it becomes a family thing, it becomes more reinforced and they can talk about it at home,” Chiu said.
THE TWO STUDENTS DIVIDE THE WORKLOAD.
Knowing that these workshops would be too difficult to teach alone, Chiu reached out to Molala — who he had known since middle school — for help. Although a bit skeptical at first, Molala agreed to join the project.
They spent much time going over the curriculum and figuring out what activities to add to the workshops, as well as dealing with some skepticism over the fact that the workshops were being taught by high schoolers.
But, Chiu and Molala both came from immigrant families who overcame struggle and weren’t deterred.
Molala’s family, who came from India, had their own financial difficulties when his maternal grandfather passed away when his mom was young, leaving her and her mom to start working. Molala learned how to budget his money through his parents, something he still practices today and a skill he helps to teach in the workshops.
REACHING OUT FOR SUPPORT
They were able to receive help from the Dragon Kim Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire youth to impact their communities. Chiu was already a member and, with Molala’s help, presented the idea to the foundation.
After a round of interviews, the teens were awarded $5,000 for their workshops. They were also given support from mentors from the foundation and other financial literacy experts.
Arie Grace Lugo, a fellowship program manager at the Dragon Kim Foundation, explained that there were multiple projects pitched to them about financial literacy, but what was unique about Chiu’s and Molala’s project that differentiated it from the rest was the inclusion of the community.
“What I personally loved about Tyler and Srijesh’s application was their intent to come alongside the community, to provide support in a way that met the needs of a specific community in their city …,” Lugo said. “Both Srijesh and Tyler attend school in Van Nuys, and they shared how meaningful it was for them to give back to their own community that they are part of as students.”
“I’m super impressed with what they’ve done,” said Lugo.
“We hope that [other youth] take the information we have … we hope that they take those basics and then they do their own research on it, and they can be more financially stable in their lives, into college, leading to a proper job.” said Molala.
The next Money 101 workshop in the City of San Fernando starts at 5 p.m on July 14. To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/o/money-101-46297287213.