By Marcia Griffin, CEO/Founder, HomeFree-USA | Washington Informer
The true greatness of a person is determined by what they leave behind. Legacy is everything. And so, when you speak about the late great Congressman Elijah Cummings, you may think about his public service to the people. The first 13 years as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, and the final 23 years as a congressman in Maryland’s 7th district is why Wells Fargo intends to keep his legacy alive with the Cummings Scholars program that bears his name.
The Cummings Scholars Program is a six-week paid internship program where Morgan State University students work with nonprofit organizations to improve the financial health of their communities. Students learn valuable life skills about budgeting, saving, credit building, home ownership and business development.
The program, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank and orchestrated by HomeFree-USA, has been in place for the past four years. At the beginning, the program was focused solely on students in the Baltimore, Maryland area and at Cummings’s alma mater, Morgan State University. In 2022 the Cummings Scholars Program expanded into 9 states and provided vital employment resources to 19 nonprofit organizations.
Monica Mitchell, Lead Social Impact Specialist explains the origins of the program. “Wells Fargo created this program with Congressman Cummings and HomeFree-USA because we identified intersections between communities, nonprofits, and HBCU students. Nonprofits need more resources to support their communities; many college students of color need income now to finish school, and they need the financial capability to build wealth long-term. On top of addressing all those needs, the program provides practical career development for students. It’s an incredible tribute to the Honorable Elijah Cummings’s life and legacy.”
HomeFree-USA is an African American founded nonprofit organization that through its collaborative network helps diverse families navigate the homeownership process through education, inspiration and personal guidance. The HomeFree-USA network consist of 53 organizations nationwide. Together they combine resources to elevate the credit and financial statue of all people.
Gwendolyn Garnett, Executive Director of Center for Financial Advancement® at HomeFree-USA, explains how the program’s credit-building and professional development helps to prepare young people for financial success. “In some cases, credit is key to getting a job. Some companies will look at your credit before they will hire you. The mindset is ‘if you can’t manage your own finances, how can you manage whatever responsibilities we are going to hire you for.”
The Cummings Scholars Program has several goals; 1. Create more paid jobs and internships for HBCU students. 2. Develop a diverse pipeline of young business professionals who will excel in the workplace. 3. Expose students to career opportunities, many are unfamiliar with. 4. Provide free help to nonprofit organizations who work hard to change their communities.
But there are many other benefits to the program.
Chardonnay Lee, a senior at Morgan State University, who is in her fourth year as a Cummings Scholar sees additional benefits. “In addition to the skill building occurring at places of business, I love the focus on homebuying, public speaking, interviewing techniques, and the confidence building gained through these work experiences. This program and the Center for Financial Advancement® has been of great value to me.”
Garnett is proud that HomeFree-USA and Wells Fargo kept the program moving forward during COVID and while students worked virtually. “I am especially happy that we can serve nonprofit organizations around the country, who are small with limited resources. The technical competencies of these aspiring gen-z students provide tremendous technology and marketing help to nonprofit leaders who were created to improve the financial trajectory of their communities. Today we serve communities of colors across country.”
Scholars rave about their love for Wells Fargo and HomeFree-USA. Chardonnay Lee states “Right before the summer of my sophomore year, [Garnett] asked for my feedback on the program. I was happy to give my positive sentiments and stated that this program was valuable because we want business experience, we want to become entrepreneurs and we are dedicated to improving our community. With what we’ve learned, most of us will buy our homes in our twenties and get approved the first time. I am grateful.”
That is the perfect way to continue a legacy by giving the next generation and nonprofit leaders the resources they need to prosper and be more successful. Cummings would be proud of his scholars — and so are we.