Carmen Johnson always had a big heart, but never knew how she could inspire and change others’ lives. Now, with the creation of the Katie Able Foundation, she’s learned to use her experience as a financial advisor to help children become financially literate.

Johnson ran Able Estate and Company, a professional financial management organization, where she often provided free services to those in need. But when the country’s real estate market began to crash, the finance maven was determined to help other Prince Georgians caught in the downward spiral. “We educated people on credit, personal finances, debt, housing counseling and many other things,” said Johnson.

After assisting adults with their housing woes, Johnson decided to target a younger crowd and started the ABC 123 Financial Literacy Mentoring Program at New Carrolton’s Robert Frost Elementary School. Drawing from her experience, Johnson wanted to help children develop a strong foundation in budgeting at an early age.

“I didn’t understand what my grandmother was doing back then,” she said. I think her point of view was I was a female and back then men took care of everything. Times were beginning to change and she wanted me to be prepared to take care of myself along with being responsible for my finances.”

With her grandmother’s prodding, Johnson said she grew to love financial management and the lessons she learned early on have granted her success as an adult.

However, her love for the finance field didn’t make it any easier to start a nonprofit. She struggled to earn 501(c)(3) status ? a tax-exempt label the IRS grants certain organizations – and distinguish Katie Able from fraudulent companies who took advantage of the mortgage crisis.

“It took 14 months to get the 501(c)(3)because there are so many credit counseling and nonprofits that are literally just taking the government’s money and taking advantage of the situation,” Johnson said. “We had to keep sending the IRS materials and, in the end, provided them with whatever they asked for.”

Now equipped with tax-exempt status, Johnson is focused on following in the footsteps of her hero, former President Jimmy Carter. Johnson said she models her life after Carter’s humanitarian and philanthropic philosophies, and even met the former commander-in-chief the same week she officially launched her foundation.

She hopes other people begin to follow Carter’s example, especially in Prince George’s County.

“Even if people don’t want to give to my cause, I think she should still be willing to give,” she said. “If you look to your left and see someone in need, then I think you should give. If you look to your right and see someone in need then you should do something about it, especially in our area.”

Johnson has plans to expand the elementary school program to other schools in the county, in addition to broadening the scope of her foundation to other countries. She said she wants to donate food to Africa, medicine to India and just provide a little “tender loving care” for children in Russia.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO