Mentor? or Idiot?

I’m a compulsive helper. Across the years I have mentored several young people, in my attempt to “pay it forward” for those several special adult / mentors that took me under their wing when I was a young adult. In the past I’ve selected my candidates carefully, and applied my skills wisely and generously. This time, not so much.

I met a young man at church who is on the cusp of turning his life around. He works hard, on a landscaping crew, and receives his pay all in cash, pretty much daily. This temptation is too much for any young man, let alone one never trained in money management.

Handling your paycheck, saving for the future, and not spending more than you make are things I learned from my father. This poor kid was raised without one … so what an opportunity to help.

After some befriending here and there , I guess I earned enough trust to learn the deep truth, that he burns through his cash on vices that never tempted me, bad habits beyond my comprehension, provided by people I spent my life avoiding. And when he does show the self discipline to bring home those extra greenbacks (or when the daily payout is so big), they end up in a coffee can that roommates (and parents!) find and tap. I was stunned at this thought. Parents?

I told him he had to move, had to accumulate that cash. He needed to simply open a savings account. He stared at me blankly. At times I am so naive thinking all children were raised like my own.

He needs a place of his own to live without the termites chewing on his few dollars. I inquired at several banks for ideas about a structure to let him deposit cash while it’s burning a hole in his pocket, and lock it up till morning. Yet he must eventually have access to it to pay rent, transportation, and a small stipend for personal entertainment, without me (or anyone) playing gatekeeper. He’s got to grow up and do it himself.

When I was a kid we called this tool a checking account. Nowadays ATM/debit cards are bottomless Visa or Mastercard accounts allowing (no, encouraging) the young and irresponsible among us to spend infinitely beyond their limits and their needs. Even capped, they still allow a reckless kid to spend every penny. Logically his monthly rent, car, phone payments can be done from the web. But he needs a safe place to stash his money, then to learn the magic of setting money aside. After a month 10 bucks a day is 300, 20 bucks is 600, 50 bucks is 1,500. He is one month away from getting his own apartment, safe & secure from his abusers.

He is not my son, or my nephew, just a kid that is perched on the cusp of turning his life around, and I could be that angel that stood at the fork and pointed to the right road. My name will be on nothing, except for my advice, and the appointments to see bankers and apartment managers. No joint accounts or cosigned leases. Maybe for a month I’ll show him the mechanics of how to manage and pay bills. But success requires that he run his own life.

I have now learned that his vices are more serious, and therefore cash based. Thats where the money was going. So locking away the money as it enters his pocket might be the golden path to ridding him off those bad influences: habits and people. Or it might be just another heartache for me, wanting to do well, but pushing a rock up an infinitely steep hill.

He talks a good story, but is in troubles deeper than I know or I can ever hope to resolve. But that’s up to his sponsor and to building a new support network. All I can do is paint numbered footsteps on the floor, and hope he chooses to dance.

I guess if I was a believer, I could pray. But all I have is my deep deep faith in humanity …

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