November 25, 2014
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With help from Dorcas Place, Dominican native learns how to balance finances
ALWAYS LEARNING: Jesus Castro (left) is getting the training he needs to find a job and manage finances at Dorcas Place.

At 43, Jesus Castro, his wife Yokasta, and their son and daughter have lived the American dream since leaving the Dominican Republic for Rhode Island. Lived it, that is, until they lost it.

Working at a company that makes printers' ink, the Castros left their Central Falls apartment six years ago and bought a house on Milton Road in the Lakewood section of Warwick. The kids were in school and Yokasta was and still is a day care teacher at the Genesis Center, a South Providence adult education organization that also serves children.

And then, amid tough economic times, Castro's company shut down and his job was no more.

"I tried to go straight to college," he said. But without a GED, college was not an option. "I was not ready for college at all. Not even close. My English, everything, was very low."

He applied for several jobs. He thought he had a good chance to gain a position with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at T.F. Green Airport – until he had to take an entry exam. "I failed the test because I couldn't read fast enough in the computer," Castro said.

In a bid for a similar job at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, the result was the same. "I felt a lot of pressure," he said. "I had lost my confidence."

However compelling, Jesus Castro's story is not unique. In a state of slightly more than 1 million people, 150,431 Rhode Islanders need adult education services, according to the United States Census American Community Survey of 2007. That is, for various reasons they have not followed a traditional educational path. For many, this means they now find themselves unprepared to compete for jobs they need to support themselves and their families.

Of those, 103,481 lack a high school diploma. Of those who lack a diploma, 30,261 have limited English language skills. Finally, the survey also found that 16,689 adults who have at least a high school diploma also have limited English skills.

The current economic climate only makes matters worse. Budget reductions to adult education within the Rhode Island Department of Education and Governor's Workforce Board have hindered the efforts of non-profit adult education agencies across the state by an average of 25 percent. This funding is the primary source of educational opportunity for those Rhode Islanders who seek a GED, job training, improved English language skills, family literacy and other skills that most Rhode Island adults take for granted.

In difficult financial straits, Castro also discovered how much he had to learn about personal finances. Just in time, he also discovered Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center, the Elmwood Avenue, Providence, non-profit organization and its new Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) program.

Dorcas Place and four other organizations received funding in 2010 from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to open financial opportunity center. LISC is a national organization that provides funds to local organizations to improve workforce development and asset building skills in programs developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The FOC initiative connects low- to moderate-income families to benefits and resources that can support them in the current economic climate while preparing them for long-term financial stability.

"I come from a poor neighborhood," Castro said of his earlier life in the Dominican Republic. "Then we came here and I had a decent job, but then I lost my job." First, Castro and his wife sat with Dorcas Place financial coach Angela Salavarrieta. Phone calls were made on the Castros' behalf. "I had to learn to manage my money," he said. A lower mortgage interest rate made things a bit easier. Then there were the five credit cards he and Yokasta shared. "We were paying a very high interest rate on these cards."

Today, the Castros are paying dramatically lower interest rates on the credit cards. Just as important, they have stopped using the cards. "Angela taught us how these things work," Castro said, adding that he's learned that paying the minimum balance on credit cards usually means many years before balances are eliminated.

"It was very satisfying to help Jesus with what he thought was an overwhelming issue," Salavarrieta said. "He had sought out help previously but was left very frustrated. It was great to settle issues he had been so worried about."

Asked to name the most important personal finance lesson he's learned, Castro did not hesitate. "You have to learn to live with whatever you've got, even if it means reducing your spending. You can't spend what you don't have."

At Dorcas Place, Castro has also made strides to improve his English and to be ready to pass future employment exams. He has already passed four of five tests required for his GED and expects to have earned that certificate in time for next June's Dorcas Place graduation exercises. The Castros' children are also moving ahead with their education. Son Darwin is now a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island and daughter Yokasta is a senior at Pilgrim High School.

Jesus Castro now has his eyes on the Community College of Rhode Island and he believes a good job is in his future. "I had one once, and I will again," he declared.

This story was reported by Sean M. McKenna, Director of Communications at Dorcas Place Adult & Family Learning Center.


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