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JFS Helps Clients Build Their Financial Literacy

JFS helps clients build their financial literacy toolkits

A small, but diverse, group of participants in Jewish Family Services’ year
long financial literacy program is building a framework of financial knowledge, one building block at a time.

Most participants had already accessed some services that JFS offers, said Rose Murrin, supervisor of the Kesher and case management programs. Realizing that some of those individuals could benefit from gaining some financial literacy skills, we decided to differentiate ourselves by developing a long-term program that has no official end, said Rose. She worked with Larson Gunness, a financial planner, to create the program.

Funded by the Grace K and Wesley S Alpert Charitable Foundation, the program launched in September 2016, with six participants. Five have remained in the program, which starts with a six-month series of classes and one-on-one counseling. Two-hour classes were held every other month teaching issues of debt and credit, credit scores, financial organization and planning, and other basics. On the alternate months, each participant meets privately with Kelly Deering, a JFS staff member who is a financial coach. Early in the program, after the sixth participant acquired a full-time, well-paid position, everyone involved determined that, while was still a good candidate for the program, he had gained financial security through his new position.

Rose added, “At their first session, Kelly gets to know each participant and his or her hopes and dreams, strengths and life objectives, etc. At additional sessions, Kelly helps each participant address and tackle his or her unique financial needs. During the next six months of the program, beginning in March, Kelly and each participant will meet two or three times to evaluate how things are going.

There’s no “typical participant” in the program, said Rose; one is a college student, another a retiree; some are single and others have families.

Even after participants complete the free program, Rose expects them to return for help. “Something will happen – a child will be born, a medical crisis may ensue or you might lose your job or get a better-paying one,” she said. “Your plan will get derailed; you can come back and talk with Kelly to adjust your financial plans.”

Even in the first few months of the program, participants learned to take a deep breath and face their financial situation, rather than dodging overdue bill notices or credit collection calls. That was what one participant, a college student, was finally able to do, after fearing her credit rating would be ruined. With only a part-time job and unable to keep up with her student loan payments, she had been receiving many nasty phone calls each day, until Kelly and Larson helped her call her creditors to arrange a manageable payment plan.

Rose is thrilled that so many people have stuck with the program, especially as comparable programs often have very high attrition rates. In such cases, people find that they aren’t ready to commit to making the necessary financial changes, said Rose, who attributes the program’s success in part to forging a strong relationship with each participant at the very first one-on-one interview. In addition, for participants accessing JFS’ case management services, this financial literacy program supplements those wraparound services.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants were pleasantly surprised that Kelly actually wanted to get to know them as people and by the breadth and depth of the information provided. Even Ellen Gourse, a senior citizen living in Warwick on a fixed income – with no opportunity to earn more money – benefited from upping her financial literacy skills, said Rose. Ellen, who’d been to several financial planning programs at other agencies, said, “This is the best one ever; it’s not the program so much as the people who are running it. Kelly and Larson are both down-to-earth and willing to help you in any way they can; they’ve even shared how they’ve streamlined their own financial lives.”

Asked what specific tips she learned, Ellen said, “Don’t use your debit card… if you have cash, you spend only what you have in your wallet. I was always using my debit card before this; I tried it and it works! I’m also better organized… I know what’s coming down the [financial] pike.”

JFS anticipates starting another series of financial literacy classes in April or shortly thereafter. For more information, contact Rose Murrin at 401-331-1244, ext. 350.

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