During County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 13 award-winning programs from nine counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.

Watch the video.

In talking with the students in Solano County’s “Money Matters” program for foster youth, there is a common theme among them: they are getting it. For the first time, they are learning about personal finance and the integral role it will play in their future success.

This program is truly a community partnership among public and private organizations, including Solano County Health and Human Services, Travis Credit Union, United Way North Bay and Solano County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  Representatives of these groups see the program as an investment into the future of Solano County and its residents, providing much-needed instruction and advice to a group that too often falls through the cracks.

Most foster youth who transition out of the system have little understanding of personal finances and lack a family support structure to help them. Without a sound foundation in money management, many fail to complete post-high school education, find or maintain adequate housing, maintain good credit or make positive financial decisions.

Solano County’s “Money Matters” program is out to change that. Through a series of half-day workshops, the students learn budgeting, spending, wants versus needs, credit, investments, post-high school education opportunities and what lies ahead for them financially. For each workshop they successfully complete, students are given a small stipend that can be used, upon graduation, to open a checking account at Travis Credit Union. Graduates also receive certificates from the Solano County Office of Education

The foster youth also have the ability to work with financial mentors — Travis Credit Union staff who have volunteered and trained for the role. Linda Orrante, Solano County Health and Human Services Deputy Director aptly summarized the role of these mentors: “To have someone who is a financial expert, to be their own personal mentor, they might as well be talking to an astronaut. They were so thrilled to have that opportunity that they just embraced it.”

“Money Matters” is designed not to just be another class; students also hear about real-life experiences from former foster youth who learned about personal finance the hard way. Kareena Blackmon, a former foster youth who now works with the “Money Matters” students, explains how it took years for her to rectify the financial mistakes she made as a young adult. She wants to ensure her students don’t fall into the same fiscal traps.  “I tell them how important it is to learn this information so they don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

These students have great aspirations. Samantha Cornellier wants to be a cardiologist; Jacqueline Hernandez talks of attending college in Southern California and finding a career where she can help others. All of the supporters of “Money Matters” want to ensure these foster youth don’t have to face any unnecessary financial hurdles along the way.

Travis Credit Union’s Sherry Cordonnier sums it up. “It goes unspoken that the community is our youth and our future. It is incumbent upon us to educate them and stand shoulder to shoulder with those who educate to enlighten them to make good choices.”

“Money Matters” is making a difference in the lives of Solano County foster youth. You can bank on it.

County government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level. The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2011 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2012 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.

David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at dliebler.at.counties.org.