Since opening last year, Dale Bryant's Building Blocs organization has set about the task of inspiring high-school aged Central Brooklyn students to dream big and follow through on their potential.
So far so good, says Bryant.
"A lot of students in certain neighborhoods just don't have access to some of the concepts that can really make a big deal at the beginning of someone's life," Bryant said. "I wanted to create an environment where they can get all the instruction that they'll need."
In 2006, the Queens-born Bryant, who had previously worked on Wall Street after receiving his MBA in financing, decided to start the education organization. After fund raising for two years, and obtaining non-profit certification, Building Blocs began operations in 2008.
The free program offers three different ten-week courses all geared towards high school-aged students aged 14 and up, explained Bryant. The Financial Literacy Program, the organization's flagship class, teaches students "everything that anyone needs to know about personal finance," Bryant said, from preparing taxes and opening a bank account to saving money, investing wisely, and avoiding debt.
A unique feature of the program is a rewards system that allows students to earn up to $200 during the course. Bryant said students are rewarded in small dollar increments for arriving to class on time, completing their homework, and succeeding on tests (students are not penalized monetarily for bad grades).
At the graduation that marks the end of the ten-week course, Building Blocs opens individual savings accounts for the students, and places the money they've earned there.
"Students are lured in by the potential to make money because a lot don't have any," said Bryant, who teaches all three of the classes he offers. "But when they get into the classroom and see just how useful the information is to their future, they start getting really excited about it and get into the classes."
Building Blocs' other two courses, titled Entrepreneurism and Workplace Skills, provide students with the other basic tools to guide them towards sound financial footing.
In the Enrepreneurism class, said Bryant, students are given a crash course on company management and operation, marketing strategy, and profit margin analysis. In Workplace Skills, students are taught how to prepare resumes, dress for interviews, and conduct them with potential employers.
Perhaps more importantly, Bryant works to expand the students' vision for what is possible, encouraging them to dream as big as they want.
"Initially the students have limited ideas, ideas that are as small as their environment," said Bryant. Whereas the students start the program with the ambition to own a maintenance company, for example, Bryant said, they end it aspiring to become corporate executives and lawyers.
Classes in 2009 will begin in April. Last year, roughly 30 students from neighborhoods like East Flatbush, Brownsville, and Canarsie attended the classes, held at a location in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the future, said Bryant, he hopes the program educates 500 students every year.
"I want Building Blocs to be a sustainable, popular community resource," Bryant said. "I'm looking for motivated students." (Dan Bush)
Dale Bryant can be reached at buildingblocs.org