Welcome to our October blog series, Meet the Mentor. Each week, you’ll meet a different mentor from one of EMPath’s programs.

Meet Carlos, Senior Coordinator of the Mobility Mentoring® Center (MMC)! A finance guru, Carlos oversees the MMC, which offers specialized support in education, employment, and finances to participants across all EMPath programs.

How did you get into finances?

My junior year of college I took a class called Money, Banking, and the Financial Institution. That changed the course of where I wanted my life to go. I originally majored in communications, but when I took that course junior year I was like, banking and finance is where I want to be. By senior year I’d completely changed what I wanted to do.

In your own words, what is a Mobility Mentor?

A Mobility Mentor is someone who can help someone else achieve what they think is impossible. It’s having this person who can help you plan life, help you come up with strategies on difficult issues you might be facing. I always say that a mentor is really just a guide. We make this analogy all the time – it’s like having a GPS in your car. It’s having that voice in the back of your head that says, If you make this wrong turn you’ll still get to your destination and here’s all the things you can do. It’s a coach you can always rely on to help you get up when you’re down and help redirect so you can get to your final destination.

How is a Mobility Mentor different than a traditional case manager?

It’s different for two reasons. One, there’s a holistic approach. When you’re working with participants it’s not just about finances or employment. Usually with a case manager it’s very transactional: “turn in this piece of paper and we’ll renew your DTA benefits.” A mentor helps you think about where you are, where you want to go, how do you want to improve your life. Not everyone is going to make it to the top of the Bridge [to Self-Sufficiency®], and that’s okay. The goal is for the individual to become self-sufficient.

The other way that it differs – going back to the GPS analogy – is that the participant is in the driver’s seat. They’re the ones setting the destination, unlike traditional case management led by the case manager. The participant has a lot more energy and motivation if the goals are coming directly from them.

What makes a good Mobility Mentor?

A Mobility Mentor is someone who can actively listen. They’re there when you need them. They’re consistent. They follow through, they circle back. It’s not fake. You can sense when something is fake, when someone is not being genuine. Mobility Mentors have to be genuine.

A mentor is someone who can relate but at the same time challenge you a little bit and push you to the next level. They can see things you’re able to accomplish even if in the moment you can’t see some of those things yourself. A mentor is able to help participants see that vision of what is possible.

A mentor knows that the participant is in control and is there to support. A mentor is meant to become obsolete at one point. We go away. We’re not there in the beginning and we’re not going to be there at the end, so we have this small window to work with participants and help build skills. If we do a good job, by the time we go away, the participant is accomplishing everything just as if a mentor was there. If we do a good job, then the participant will survive and thrive.

Talk about the Mobility Mentoring Center (MMC).

I always compare the Mobility Mentoring Center to the medical field. When someone goes to the hospital, they usually have a nurse who’s there for whatever they need. When someone comes into shelter, they’re connected with a Mobility Mentor – that’s their nurse.

When something more specialized comes up and the nurse isn’t able to address it, they bring in a specialist. At the MMC, we are those specialists. We come in when a program mentor says, “Hey I don’t know what to do here, I’m out of strategies, what would you recommend?”

As specialists, we have a passion for the work we do. And we know the tools and resources in the community and online that folks can tap into.

Tell us about a time a participant achieved a difficult goal.

In 2016, I got a referral to work with a participant from the STEPS program. She had a lot going on. She was the breadwinner for her family, she didn’t have a strong social network, she wasn’t working at the time, and she definitely didn’t want to talk about finances. We set up a meeting. No call, no show, twice.

I reached out to her mentor to set up a joint meeting, because they already had a relationship. After three of these meetings, the participant started showing up and developing a trust with me.

We set our first financial goal to create a budget. She was spending a good chunk of money on food. I remember asking her, “How does that feel?” She opened up and told us that part of the way she dealt with stress was by eating. I asked her, “What would you do differently? Is there any way you could find a different way of taking care of yourself?”

A couple months later she found a job where she was cooking and making good money. She started taking care of herself, she cut back on smoking, she started saving. She was able to accomplish all these amazing financial goals. This is someone who wouldn’t talk to you about finances before – it was like pulling teeth in our meetings.

I think part of the reason she came around was because we stopped talking about finances. We started talking about everything else in her life and how she dealt with stress. That was a breakthrough moment. It wasn’t just saving money and opening a bank account that worked for her. It wasn’t about creating a budget. It was really about finding a way to deal with a stressful situation.

When you push the numbers to the side, what’s left over is the emotions. Finances are such an emotionally charged topic. As a financial specialist, if you’re just focusing on the numbers, you’re not going to get too far. At first, we might not know what the relationship is between the money and the emotion, but I guarantee you if you dig deeper you start making those connections.

I’ve had conversations with people who do a lot of retail therapy shopping. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just about understanding what the relationship is. When we talk to participants, it goes beyond just our area of specialty. The coaching comes first, and our area of specialty comes second.

What is one thing you wish people knew about Mobility Mentoring?

That it works. It’s really just that simple. I think most organizations try to figure out to get someone out of poverty. I don’t want to brag and say we’re geniuses, but I think the tools we have resonate with the participants and the data show that it actually does work. I’ve seen it firsthand in working with participants. And there are other organizations adopting our model.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

There’s never a dull moment, there’s always something changing. It’s challenging and exciting. It helps us grow as individuals and as an organization. There’s always a different way of thinking about the work [of economic mobility coaching]. Outside of having great colleagues, I think that’s probably my favorite part.

Can you give us some general financial advice?

Keep it simple. I think people assume that if you’re not good with numbers or math then you’re not going to be good at managing your finances. With the terms used in financial conversations, you can get lost in 30 seconds. When you think of finances, you think of credit scores, you think of Wall Street and people in suits, and that can be intimidating.

It starts with understanding where your money is coming from and where it’s going. Budgeting can get complicated when someone is showing you a fancy spreadsheet. All you need is a blank piece of paper and a writing utensil and you can have a working, realistic budget.

It’s not as hard as it seems. Where are you now, and where do you want to go? Then it’s all about figuring out what those steps are.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I enjoy cooking. You can have two people follow the same recipe and the food will still come out different. I find that really fascinating.

What do you like to cook?

Everything. Once a month I try a new recipe – that’s my new thing.

What else do you like to do outside of work?

I love traveling. I do annual trips to Puerto Rico. I was in Colombia not too long ago. I’ve got a big trip to the Philippines coming up. I even love traveling around Massachusetts.

Next up: Meet Bryna R.