Her father passed away when she was young, leaving her mother as the sole breadwinner. But when her mother went on disability after a bad car accident, times got harder, and money was in short supply.
“I grew up pretty much poor,” Carpenter said. “It was really tough for us.”
But she’s moving onward and upward. As a first-year student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying electrical engineering, Carpenter has success in her sights, and she credits one thing in particular for setting her dreams in motion.
That thing is H.O.P.E., a nonprofit organization with a mission to help youth achieve their goals for education, career and service. Carpenter joined H.O.P.E. when she was 15, and since then she’s learned countless lessons on how to manage money and select a career path that’s right for her.
“I can honestly say this program has helped me a lot,” Carpenter said, “and I even go to other people and teach them, too.”
Stella Robinette, director of H.O.P.E., believes the program plays an important role in breaking the cycle of homelessness. By working with young people, she hopes to give them the tools they need to find success in life, thereby preventing homelessness later on.
“Why not invest in prevention now?” Robinette said. “If you just educate them, help them find jobs — and we do help them try to find jobs, too — then eventually, slowly, the (homeless) numbers are going to go down.”
Robinette said her program educates youth on a number of topics, including career paths, paying taxes, interview skills, personal finance and etiquette. Most of the financial and career lessons are taught through a “dream book,” which helps young people narrow career options and plan their future budget based on their career choice.
Carpenter said the dream book has a life simulation component based on the participant’s career choice.
”You go in and you pick out your house, your car, everything like that, and you see if you would be able to afford it,” she said.
The program is specific and detailed, according to Robinette.
“It even has them to decide if they want a one-week vacation, two-week vacation. ‘What is it going to take? Where are you going to go?’ They have to think all this out,” Robinette said.
H.O.P.E. students are also taught to maintain three savings accounts: one for emergency expenses, one for church or nonprofit contributions and one they don’t touch.
“What we try to educate these youth on is how to manage their money. Don’t live beyond their means. For a lot of them that become homeless, it’s because parents have made bad decisions,” Robinette said. “That’s not always the case, though, but that’s the majority of it is because they made bad decisions. Because a lot of them can have a high income, but if they don’t know how to manage it, they’re one paycheck away and they become homeless.”
While H.O.P.E. will still focus on youth education, Robinette plans to expand the program for adults, particularly those who are looking to improve their credit or purchase a home. Though young people like Carpenter are already one step ahead, Robinette believes it’s never too late to learn.
“You might struggle right now, but you can see your future as being better,” Robinette said. “We’ve had some of our parents to sit in on them (the classes), and I had one parent say, ‘Do you think it’s too late?’ No, it’s not too late. You can start now.”