Updated: Sep 16
In today’s Featured Volunteer segment, FGI spotlights Blake Kernen, who was First Generation Investors’ “first ‘hire’.”
Today, Blake serves as FGI’s Director of Corporate Strategy and Head of Donor Relations, and sits on the Executive Board. We chatted with the UPenn junior about her work as an early member of the FGI team and enduring dedication to the nonprofit, in addition to the FGI experience that she considers “one of the most special moments of my entire life.”
1. Describe the first time you made an investment.
I was gifted GE [General Electric] stock by the company when I was born. My father, Joe Kernen, is an anchor on CNBC, and CNBC was owned by GE at the time. So, even though I couldn’t see what they were, or hold them, or tangibly conceptualize them in any way when I was young, I always knew that stocks were something of high value. I was blessed to have been introduced to the American financial markets at a very young age by my father. He spoke at length about investing being an opportunity, capitalism as the “right way,” and money being the only entity on earth that truly doesn’t care about who you are and where you come from. Now, I watch him tell my students the same thing as a guest speaker in a program that I helped start––it’s been a precious experience.
2. How did you get involved with FGI?
I was FGI’s first “hire.” After Cole, Dylan, and Alex founded the program in the Fall of 2019, I was brought on just before the start of the pilot session in January as the organization’s Social Media Head and Marketer. And I fell in love. At first, I was just excited to be a part of something my best friends had worked so hard to bring to fruition; this was their dream, and I felt so lucky to be invited to help out. Once I met the students and witnessed the actionable change that FGI created, this became my dream too, and I joined the Executive Board as one of our directors. Working with the entire team and growing what began with just three high-schoolers and four Penn volunteers into the movement it’s become has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
3. What have you found most rewarding about your time in FGI?
For me, the connections are the most valuable takeaways from the program. I was talking to the heads of one of our partnering organizations and he told me, from his perspective, that the FGI experience is about “30% investing, 70% something else.” I couldn’t agree more. Where else are you surrounded by people with shared passions and interests, telling you every day that you WILL be successful, you DO have what it takes to live a long, prosperous life, and that everybody in this room wants that for you? FGI breeds hope. That’s huge––so many people have never been in an environment like that before. The relationships that I personally have formed with the students and other volunteers and watched form between other students and other volunteers are beyond special, and they are why I work so hard to grow what we started.
4. What is your favorite memory of working with FGI?
I had the privilege of running our first graduation ceremony for our Pilot Session and Fall 2019 Semester students. I can’t really put into words what it felt like to read out those names and watch each student I cared for so deeply walk up to the front of our lecture hall and take that diploma out of my hand. It was a huge milestone for all the people who made it possible, and I felt an astronomical amount of gratitude for their commitment to the program. Every single student gave me a handshake and a hug. (As the biggest hugger in the entire world, this was for sure my favorite part.) I was so nervous because I really wanted to make it a special experience for the students. I didn’t even realize until after the fact that I was in the midst of one of the most special moments of my entire life.
I tell a lot of the students that I just feel so lucky to be a small part of their success stories. That day felt like a really huge chapter in my own.
Blake Kernen, the self-proclaimed "biggest hugger in the entire world," embraces members of the first FGI graduating class at the ceremony that she facilitated