United Way councils seek to break cycle of poverty

·5 min read

Jun. 14—Leading the fight to help break the cycle of poverty in the community, United Way of the Wabash Valley developed a strategic plan that includes five focus areas, one of which is financial stability.

Two impact councils within this area — Financial Management and Job Skills — will provide outreach initiatives aimed at debt reduction and career development.

"Events tend to cascade for people living on the financial edge," said Christine Blakley, who serves as financial stability liaison. "They find it impossible to rebound from crises costs because they don't have a cushion to absorb those unexpected expenses."

A group of volunteers who are passionate about and/or are experts in the field of financial management have come together to take responsibility for developing ideas and initiatives to increase financial management skills throughout the community. Blakely said the Financial Management Council's mission is to deliver these income stability tools, mentoring and programs "by meeting families where they are to make it as easy as possible for people to participate."

As a means of finding solutions, three groups have come forward to expand or provide financial literacy training, coaching and mentoring: Reach Services in Terre Haute, YMCAs of Vigo and Clay counties and Vermillion County Purdue Extension. In place since February, the programs are set to report concrete measurements of success next month.

Reach Services is offering the Regions Bank's Next Step course curriculum, which consists of six, two-hour classes for up to 25 participants. Participants receive $10 for each class attended, which is placed into a rainy day account at Regions. Those who complete all six classes and participate in a one-year mentoring program will have that account balance increased to $500. Learn more at: regions.com/next-step.

The YMCAs are offering the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course to a minimum of 60 participants. This 10-week course meets one hour per week at a cost of $20 per family and free child care is included. It costs $130 to purchase the course directly from the Dave Ramsey website. Find out more about the program at: ramseysolutions.com.

"The course is being taught by people who've completed the training and are true believers because they were able to get out of debt themselves and want to share the information with anybody who wants to free themselves of financial burdens," said Abbey Desboro, marketing and communications director at the United Way.

Tiffany and Mark Baker, owners of 3 Sisters Investments, will instruct the course at the Vigo County YMCA. She said the couple got the course as a wedding gift from their parents in 2008 when they had $80,000 in debt.

"We were able to pay all of that off in just three years, when I was only 25 years old," said Baker. "It was a big catapult to changing our lives and we hope to be an inspiration to others."

She said they have people in the course ranging in age from college students to retirees and some of them "don't even have $100 in their pockets. It's a safe place for people to speak candidly about their finances so they can get the help they truly need."

Purdue Extension Vermillion County plans to train 100 individuals who will then become mentors to other people experiencing financial challenges with the hope that each of these mentors will serve at least 20 individuals. The program uses the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit (https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/educator-tools/your-money-your-goals/toolkit/).

Looking ahead, Blakely said the United Way is currently working with local financial institutions in the hopes they all will soon offer Bank On National Account Standards, which are low-barrier accounts with no minimum balance and no overdraft fees for those people who are unbanked or underbanked to help them establish credit and credit scores.

She said they are also pursuing a partnership with a group that is interested in providing basic income management curriculum at area schools to teach youth about savings, loan options, credit scores and investing.

Future plans also include collaboration with area employers who would offer incentive programs to employees who complete financial management courses.

"Area business leaders have reported that even if they were to give their employees a $10,000 raise, several employees would have it gone in a month because they just don't know how to manage their money or else they've run into one of those emergency situations and don't have that cushion to fall back on," Desboro said.

The Job Skills Impact Council will also be a component of the financial stability focus area. Within the next few months, the United Way will be recruiting volunteers "to put the right people at the table who can help develop and place much-needed job skills training programs," Blakley said.

According to the United Way of the Wabash Valley, more than 44% of households in Vigo and surrounding counties struggle with financial hardships or are in poverty. These families, labeled as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), work hard to cover the basics but struggle to survive and are vulnerable to unexpected expenses. The Federal Reserve website states that nearly 40% of Americans do not have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency.

"Poverty is so complex and multi-dimensional, but if the impact councils are successful, we'll be able to eliminate the need for the safety net council which provides immediate and emergency assistance of vital needs, such as food, shelter and clothing," Blakley said.

Michele Lawson can be reached 812-231-4232 or michele.lawson@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarMichele.

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