Laying a Foundation for Success By: Terry Callahan

Keasha Haythe has a passion for economic development. “I love it,” she says. “Economic development is really about helping people, helping the businesses that want to locate to a community, large or small, and they provide jobs to the community.” A certified economic development professional and consultant, she established The Foundation of Hope, an organization for empowering young girls to be successful leaders via its Economic and Empowerment Program.
Currently the program takes place in the spring semester after school at Easton Middle School. The girls in the program are in the sixth grade and recommended by their guidance counselor. The program is centered on three areas: Economic and Community Development, Education, and Entrepreneurship. “The Board and I decided on sixth graders which is a transitional period and girls may experience various changes. They’re going through a lot of changes. We thought that [the program] would help to mature them.”
The program has open sessions on how to deal with bullying and how to develop self-esteem. Participants learn positive affirmations that they can say to themselves each morning, such as “I am kind”, “I am caring,” “I am smart.” Learning to make use of such positive comments is a skill that can carry them through the rest of their lives. Technology and social media use topics include how to be mindful of what is posted, not getting into bullying, not posting things they may later regret since a potential employer may see the postings when they apply for a job.
All of the activities and presentations are focused on helping equip the girls to succeed. The Economic and Community Development component helps them develop knowledge and skills relating to being successful in the workforce. The one thing businesses shared in her career that was lacking with adult employees was the soft skills. To address this, participants learn how to act from the employer’s perspective, protocol for calling in sick and interviewing skills and appropriate dress. A representative from the Department of Labor helps with this piece as she teaches interviewing skills. Afterward, Keasha conducts mock interviews with the girls.
Girls also learn about budgeting, using credit wisely, and handling their finances. For example, when a credit union representative meets with them, they receive a slip of paper with a career and salary and use this information to figure out how to meet living expenses, including by making decisions such as used or new vehicle or renting an apartment or living with parents for a few years. “We talk about credit and the importance of credit score, buying stocks and earning dividends, and considering the cost of things that they buy,” says Keasha. They also learn to make a connection between how much time at work is needed to earn enough money for something they want.
Education and economic development are linked through discussion on the importance of being prepared for college or a career or both. Keasha says, “I truly believe education is the way out of poverty.”
Board members also share their skills and knowledge. Regina Dawson teaches the public speaking piece using her experience as a facilitator for Dale Carnegie. Angela Bordley works in the field of criminal justice and shares minor infractions that can cause a juvenile record. Mary DeShields, M.D. is a positive community role model with a passion for helping others and Michelle Harding, a member of the Eastern Shore Human Trafficking Task Force, teaches the girls about the threat of human trafficking.
Entrepreneurship is the third program area. For the past two years the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center has worked with the girls. This year Mid-Shore SCORE will help with the final project. Each girl creates a business plan as her final project. She chooses the business and researches needs such as location, facility, supplies and other costs. In May at the end of the program, each girl presents her business plan, applying all the skills she has learned to share her knowledge with family, friends and other audience members.
On December 7th from noon to 2pm The Foundation of Hope will hold its annual Fundraiser Luncheon and Partner Appreciation (register at eventbrite.com). Every young lady that has successfully completed the program and her parents have been invited. Several of them will speak on how the program has affected them as they have transitioned through succeeding grades.
The program wants to expand and is looking for a part-time coordinator so the program can start earlier in the school year allowing them to interact with the girls closer to the start of middle school.
For more information, go to www.foundationofhopemaryland.org or call (410) 443-9936.