Many new alumni are more focused on developing a career — not to mention paying back their student loans — than thinking about “paying it forward,” donating to the university they just left. But Demontea (“Tae”) and Demonte (“Tray”) Thompson ’15 (Management and Finance, respectively) are used to being the exceptions to the rule.
After graduating, driven by their gratitude and desire to give others a chance to overcome their circumstances, the brothers founded the nonprofit TwInspire.
“The mission of TwInspire is to advocate, empower and educate young adults from economically disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with financial literacy tools, skills and education,” Tae Thompson said.
This year, Tray and Tae donated $6,000 to CSUN to create and support the Lorenzo Edwards – TwInspire Scholarship in the Department of Financial Aid and Scholarship, within CSUN’s Division of Student Affairs. They hope to grow this scholarship to $50,000.
Born in Compton and swept into the foster care system when their parents weren’t able to care for them, the twin boys might have suffered a different fate had it not been for the relatives who took them in. Their guardians included great-uncle Lorenzo Edwards, a cement finisher and construction worker from Arkansas, who was 69 when he and his wife opened their home to Tae and Tray, as well as two more of their 10 siblings.
The twins chose to attend CSUN and found a strong support system that the university offers foster youth through its Educational Opportunity Programs. That support was key to their success in school — the twins graduated in 2015 as recipients of CSUN’s Outstanding Graduating Senior awards.
“Lorenzo ignited a flame in us to really exceed the expectations of society, of our family members and of people who thought we were going to wind up on drugs or in jail,” said Tae, who after CSUN went on to graduate school at the University of Southern California to study postsecondary administration and student affairs. Today, he serves as a resident director for housing and residence life at Cal State L.A., with 350 students under his purview.
For Tray, an early business experience kindled a lifelong passion for finance.
“Our uncle taught us the importance of valuing a dollar very early in our lives,” he explained. He and Tae’s early experiences included helping Edwards on handiwork jobs, then ultimately starting their own lawn-mowing and car wash businesses. These self-empowering experiences stuck.
Once the Thompsons enrolled at CSUN and started managing their own finances and scholarships, Tray knew he would pursue a degree in business. By his sophomore year, he was working in CSUN’s Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, where he stayed for three years, becoming a highly valued advisor to students. Today, he works in the private sector at AIG Capital Services, Inc., helping financial advisors with their own clients.
The good news for foster youth, said the brothers, is that more of them are pursuing higher education. However, with that comes the challenge of financing all of the costs associated with attaining those degrees. They are hoping that their efforts through CSUN and with TwInspire will help fill that economic gap.
“I hope that our story serves as a reminder, whether to young people who just graduated or to people who graduated 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, of the valuable opportunities they had while at CSUN,” Tray said, “because the opportunities I had are affording me a life in which I can give back to the causes I really believe in.”