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As published in The Community Foundation Spotlight in The Press Enterprise on May 5, 2012.

Ask a 16-year-old about acquiring a car and he'll say he can buy a used one for $6,000, with monthly payments of $150, a sum he can manage with a job.

But ask how much that car will really cost each month and he likely has no clue, says Cordell Thomas, executive director at AXIS Foundation Inc. AXIS is a youth-development organization serving Riverside County. It works with 14- to 24-year-olds at risk for many academic, economic and health troubles, ranging from dropping out of school to substance abuse.


Thomas is especially enthusiastic about teaching financial literacy. The teens he instructs are typically unaware of real-life financial realities such as the true cost of car ownership, which includes insurance and unexpected repairs. That might deflate some automotive dreams, but teens learn to set money aside to cover emergency fixes, Thomas said. Such lessons, given to youth and families in an AXIS program called Step-up, help them gain self-reliance. Clients are referred by Children's Institute Inc., The United Way and other groups.

Step-up is growing thanks to equipment AXIS purchased with grant money from The Community Foundation. Based in Riverside, The Community Foundation supports nonprofits in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Last year, it gave AXIS an $8,000 grant used to purchase 10 iPads, a digital camera, overhead projector and a MacBook Pro computer, Thomas said. The equipment allows Step-Up increased mobility.

"It's opened up a plethora of opportunities to put this type of project in front of people who need it," Thomas said.


When Thomas first planned these workshops, he assumed he'd need to rent space to set up a bank of computers and bring students to him. The tools the grant funded let him travel, the better to reach clients, without hauling bulky computer equipment.

"I can set up in 10 minutes," Thomas said. He didn't have to spend money renting space. Another plus: The iPads have an app that prevents students from wandering around cyberspace onto inappropriate sites while they work on budget forms.

Having parent and child discussing money together is crucial.

"It works out well when you have a parent sitting in the back of the classroom," Thomas said. A teen will state that her family spends $75 per month on groceries – and Mom will pipe up, "Oh, no. It's more like $750," Thomas said.

The biggest obstacle to kids gaining some money savvy is "a lack of communication," he said. Parents tend to assume kids will absorb money skills as they grow, he said, but that's not always the case. It's a deficiency he's determined to correct.

If teens don't learn from parents, they learn mostly from the media, Thomas continued.

"The media teaches them to be a consumer, not a producer," and blurs the distinction between wants and needs, he said.

Step-up classes greatly increase clients' financial knowledge, Thomas said. Before taking the course, students typically score 40 to 49 percent on a money-knowledge quiz, he said; afterward, they score 95 to 100 percent. AXIS and The Community Foundation together made it easy to get these workshops to dozens of clients already – proof that a savvy use of money, in this case for technology, can show big results.

To learn more about AXIS Foundation Inc., visit their website at