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Bridging the Divide: Strategic Partnerships That Connect the Community

When Michelle Jervis noticed of the lack of financial literacy education available for the young women engaged in her community nonprofit Girls Mentor Girls and school-based mentoring program The Girls Circle, she set out to close that gap.

Mentees of Girls Mentor Girls
Mentors of Girls Mentor Girls at the program's launch event hosted at Zambo Aroma in the Bronx.

As a social worker in a South Bronx public school, Jervis knew that schools did not offer much education about financial literacy. “Young people don’t start hearing a lot about money until they are probably in college…when they are already drowning in debt!” Jervis explained.

What she didn’t know was that Chase Bank has an existing curriculum available for youth in the community, and Deborah Charlemagne, the Market Director who oversees 20 Chase branches in the Bronx, was someone who could teach the young women in Jervis’s programs valuable finance skills while also being a credible messenger they could relate to.

Jervis had the young people, Charlemagne had the curriculum, and MENTOR New York held the relationships to build the bridge between the two.

Scaling Strategic Partnerships: “All that’s missing is that bridge.”

The magic happened during a consultation session between Jervis and MENTOR New York’s CEO Brenda Jimenez. As a leader for the Mentoring Movement in New York State, MENTOR New York bridges the divide by bringing organizations together with resources and leaders that know and represent the community and the young people within it.

When Jimenez heard that Jervis wanted to bring on a presenter to speak about financial literacy, she made the link to Charlemagne instantly. And the more Jimenez shared about her, the more invested Jervis became.

“She grew up in the Bronx just like the young ladies I’m working with…went to school in the Bronx for middle school and is aware of the community and some of our struggles,” said Jervis. “And now she is helping people to manage their money and in a position like this [as a Director at Chase Bank].” She continued.

Photo of Michelle Jervis
Photo of Michelle Jervis

However, this connection didn’t happen by chance. Jimenez had been working with Jervis and her mentoring programs for years and knew that Charlemagne had a history of mentoring through Chase’s CareerWise program. Jimenez had connected with Charlemagne over the summer of 2020 when she represented JP Morgan Chase as part of the selection committee for MENTOR New York’s virtual Mentor of the Year Awards.

Connecting program leaders like Jervis with community leaders like Charlemagne is part of MENTOR New York’s greater strategy to support mentoring organizations in building capacity and allowing volunteers the opportunity to make a difference without having to be full-time mentors.

“All that’s missing is that bridge,” said Charlemagne. “Because we have programs for every single thing from mortgage to everything all that we miss is the audience.”

Jimenez connected Jervis and Charlemagne over email and the partnership took off from there.

The Power of Credible Messengers: “She knows their stomping ground.”

From the start, Jervis knew that Charlemagne’s presentation would have an impact beyond just educating on financial literacy.

“This is so amazing because now this is someone that the young ladies can see themselves in her,” said Jervis. “She knows their stomping ground.”

Charlemagne moved to the Bronx when she was 9 years old and lived there most of her life.

Photograph of Deborah Charlemagne
Photo of Deborah Charlemagne

“I grew up in that neighborhood so I know exactly all the mistakes that they can make ‘cause I made them. I learned from them,” said Charlemagne. “It was really only one or two mentors that spoke to me that changed my direction. So I always feel it’s important for me now that I have a story to tell to help young people because, quite frankly, they look up to you when you came from the Bronx and you lived in Tremont...So if they see somebody out of the streets that they can relate to, it starts changing their minds immediately.” She explained.

“They will think, this could be me,” said Jervis who knew the young women would relate to Charlemagne’s story and think about their futures. “I can get from here to there – it’s possible…and not only that, while hearing to her story, I can better learn how to grow my financial portfolio.”

Key Takeaways: “There’s money out there: go and get it!”

During the workshop, Jervis had a group of about fifteen girls ages 13 to 24 gathered virtually to hear from Charlemagne and her two colleagues Deborah Myers and Carla Alcala-Pierre. Like Charlemagne, both Myers and Alcala-Pierre grew up in the Bronx and have a vested interest in helping young people.

“What was surprising was how much they knew,” said Charlemagne. “They asked about the stock market and how to save mortgages. One asked about how to hedge student loans...It was nice to see they went beyond the next steps. They were already in their heads, just from the conversation, starting to plan for their futures.”

One of the attendees from Jervis’s program, Daniela, said, “I learned that making small changes in your daily spending habits can have a big impact.”

Beyond saving for college, Charlemagne urged the young women in middle and high school to focus on grades and apply for scholarships. “There’s money out there: go and get it!”

Deepen Your Work With Strategic Partnerships

Strategic partnerships can take many forms, whether large scale or small and local, one-time or long-lasting.

“I don’t have all the answers of course – I think none of us do,” said Jervis. “But each of us holds a little piece of the answers. So building partnerships like this allows me to take a step back and let someone else who has information or guidance that the girls need to fill those gaps.”

Are you ready to take the next step toward scaling partnership?


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