For Anna Flores, financial education and personal responsibility go hand in hand, and she’s on a mission to impart this to America’s youth.
One of three children raised by Puerto Rican grandparents who immigrated to New York state in the 1940s, Anna had to grow up quickly. She is grateful that her grandparents, especially her grandmother, taught her the value of hard work, personal resilience and dedication to family and community.
Today, as executive director of CARE, helping others to adopt healthy personal financial management habits and empowering youth is more than just a job —or even a mission — for Anna. It’s also a way for her to honor her grandmother for instilling in her sound money management habits early on.
“My hero is my grandmother,” said Anna. “She was a person who dedicated her life to taking care of three of her granddaughters, and [she] sacrificed a lot for us. Everything she did was to help us be successful … be on our own — and to not forget where we come from and to support those in our communities.”
“If it weren’t for her, I don’t know if I would be here today.”
Here is CARE – the Credit Abuse Resistance Education organization. This national nonprofit is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and is dedicated to teaching high school and college students about responsible use of credit and consequences of credit card abuse.
Anna has an impressive professional background connecting people with financial education resources. She previously served as a vice president at American Express and a director at AARP. Nonetheless, she beams with pride when speaking about her current role with CARE.
Founded 15 years ago by Judge John C. Ninfo II, a now-retired U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, CARE recruits volunteers through chapters across the country, trains bankruptcy professionals, and reaches out to educators who teach personal finance fundamentals in high schools and colleges.
Ninfo was astounded by the numbers of young people with whom he came in contact daily in his profession, young people who were filing for bankruptcy mostly due to a lack of education and ill-informed, ruinous financial choices. He identified a need and responded with action, recruiting key partners who could help champion his cause.
After retiring, Judge Ninfo passed the torch to the American Bankruptcy Institute, which helped expand CARE’s reach and formally established the organization as a 501 (c)(3) in 2016.
Since then, CARE also has developed a curriculum, covering topics such as budgeting and saving, credit and debt, and managing student loans. The curriculum complies with national standards in K-12 personal finance education adopted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. And volunteers not only deliver financial education workshops in high schools and colleges based on the curriculum, they also provide personal, real-life examples of the financial troubles young people can face.
The work of organizations like CARE and leadership from financial education advocates like Anna Flores are more important — and more relevant — than ever. While Hispanics are reportedly significantly less likely than other groups to have student debt because higher numbers attend two-year colleges, college tuition and American student debt has skyrocketed in recent years. This fact alone, coupled with an admission by the federal government in early 2017 that student loan repayment rates have been significantly overstated only raises the level of urgency.
By all accounts much work remains to improve young Americans’ financial literacy, but Anna Flores is energized and undaunted.
“What we want to do is make sure that we are helping young students as they graduate and go into college and decide what they’re going to do with their lives,” she said. “What I like the most is knowing that we touch individual young people … it’s great to see in them sort of the recognition — when they have that ‘aha!’ moment — it’s very personally rewarding.”
Sandra Pedroarias is director of Hispanic and Latino outreach for Think Freely Media (TFM) and manages Think Freely Latino (TFL) (www.thinkfreelylatino.org), a TFM project. She previously served as senior adviser to the U.S. treasurer and acting director of International Women’s Issues, Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.