Fri, Apr 08, 2016

A young veteran transitions his life to financial independence

“Money can’t buy you everything. It can’t make everything perfect, but it can definitely help.”

The first paycheck Joe received as an IT professional took him by surprise. “I was freaking out. I would joke to Ms. Yulonda at Per Scholas, ‘What am I supposed to do with all this money?’” Joe, 26 and the youngest in his class in Columbus, had never earned a professional salary in his life. He had no idea what to do.

Per Scholas is familiar with this jarring albeit positive transition and is prepared to help students like Joe. In addition to the technology and career training Joe sought when he first signed up to take the IT Support course, he also received personal financial advising, a wraparound support service provided in nearly every Per Scholas site to set students up for long-term success. In Columbus, this support service is offered by volunteers from Northwestern Mutual. Working one-on-one with one of their advisors, Joe was guided along on how to set up his budget, allocate money into savings, get the right insurance, set up investments—allocations he never before had the luxury to begin to understand how to manage.

“A lot of people wonder why it is hard to manage their money. The fact is, your parents didn’t know how or your grandparents didn’t know. If you don’t know how, you’ll still be broke even if you make a million dollars.”

Joe’s grandmother was his rock raising him, his brother and two cousins while working full-time and being an active member in her community. She was an activist in the civil right’s movement helping to integrate a diner in Tennessee. She was the first director of nursing at Zion Benton hospital and later at Grant Medical Center. A preacher, an evangelist, she traveled the world to help others. “All of that power in a 5’2” package.” Joe shares in admiration.

When he found Per Scholas, Joe was managing more life obstacles than most. His grandmother had recently passed away. He was going through a divorce. He had no means of income while in training. There were periods while at Per Scholas when Joe was homeless. Mid-training his car got towed. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. It was pouring down on Joe.

Witnessing the success of his friend Garrett who worked in technology and had a great job and his own house, that was the life Joe wanted. He began looking for opportunities to help him enter the IT field when he found Per Scholas.

Joe was a natural in class. He had performed software migrations in previous jobs and worked in sales at a telecommunications company. As a boy, he spent entire days in the computer lab at the local Boys and Girls Club and was given the opportunity to learn far more than Mavis Beacon thanks to the interest the lab instructor took in Joe, bringing him under her wing to teach the ins and outs. He had a great grasp of the course material coming to Per Scholas as a student on day one.

What came with the learning setting was what Joe really needed—a community of support.

His 20 classmates bonded and supported each other, like they always do at Per Scholas. He shares the most memorable day of training, a part of class when each classmate was sharing something personal, unrelated to tech.

“I shared that I was a rapper. It always shocks people. I don’t necessarily look the part.”

His classmates insisted he prove it and he head to the front of the class. What followed his impromptu performance Joe says was the norm. “Everyone was dumbfounded and exploded in applause.”

When Joe’s attendance was at risk of him having to drop out, the classmates converged and found ways to make sure he could get to class. This was after his car got towed and he had no means other than a two-hour bus route to get there. “My classmates were calling me each morning to make sure I was going to make it, make sure I could get there. That was a support system that mattered the most to me. I didn’t have that support from my spouse or family. I learned to rely on those around me, staff and students. It allowed me to continue to push myself.”

It could have been the tremendous potential they each saw in Joe that motivated the full, hands-on support to get him to the finish line because Joe had a job offer from an IT contracting firm, Tuba Group, Inc., prior to graduating. His military security clearance from serving in the Air Force and current active status in the Navy was a huge advantage allowing him to work on government contracts. The compensation reflects the status of the job. His salary is double what he had ever earned in previous jobs.

He is approaching one year with Tuba Group and very happy. He has his own home all to himself for the first time in his life. The car is still giving him trouble, but at least he can pay to get the repairs it needs.

“Per Scholas saved my life and I want everyone to know they have this option available to them, Joe shares. “No matter where you come from, or the background, if you are tired of the norm, tired of struggling, tired of being mediocre, or not being able to live the lifestyle you want to live, Per Scholas has the tools to allow you to be able to improve your life tremendously.”

To see Joe rapping watch him at an open mic in Columbus and visit his website to learn more about Joe’s multimedia endeavors.