Creating a Financial Literacy Program: Being a VISTA and the Importance of Community Connections

Hank Hollins

I’m the AmeriCorps VISTA for the Literacy Council of Sarasota. For me, being a VISTA has been all about community connections. Having a plan about what I wanted to accomplish and sharing that plan with grant-makers and community leaders has led to a great financial literacy program. Now I’m there each week as the learners enjoy the resources which my service has helped provide. It’s extremely gratifying and fun to boot!

I had heard about the great success of programs which paired money management education with matched emergency savings programs. Financial education is combined with a free savings account and what the learner saves is matched up to a certain amount at the end. I decided that this was a combination with great appeal.

I first approached CredAbility (www.credability.org). They were very eager to help teach the workshops. As one community connection leads to another, my CredAbility representative passed along the name of a local Regions Bank associate she knew to be very involved in financial literacy and actively seeking non-profits to partner with. I talked to him, and he wanted to join us on this project: Regions would donate free savings accounts.

It was around this time I applied for my first grant. To my admitted surprise, I obtained a grant for the workshops portion of the program right out of the gate. The first grant I’d ever applied for! I was, however, only halfway there. The local foundation gave us money for the workshops but not the matching funds. I tried numerous things, calling local businesses and researching grants, exploring various ways of finding this money.

The connections I had already made, though, were where the solution lay. I reached out to my partner at Regions and asked if they might want to become more involved. He put me in touch with head of Community Affairs for the whole Tampa Bay region. We were both a little nervous, reaching so high up the chain of command, but it went wonderfully! He was very interested in our program, and Regions agreed to provide a $100 match to each of our learners for our twelve-week, twelve-class program. We were ready to go!

Now the classes are underway. The learners were given an introduction to banking during the first class, and learned the importance of setting financial goals the next. Next week, we will be covering the importance of paying yourself first. There will be classes on tracking expenses, budgeting, credit, investments, etc.

The classes are so much fun! We laugh and learn in the common room of one our Housing Authority complexes—yet another partnership—and I couldn’t be more satisfied. The most important part to me, though, was what I learned about community connections. I started with an idea and connected the dots between funders, community leaders, educators, and learners. In a way, I’m proud of this program as my own, but it really isn’t—it could go on without me. It belongs to the community.

SB Idea and Financial Literacy

Hello, my name is Adriana Alvarez and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member for S.B. Idea, Inc (SBI). SBI is a non-profit organization that runs family literacy academies in Palm Beach County, Florida with a mission to: “empower families academically and economically for self-sufficiency”.  April is not only Volunteer Month but also Financial Literacy Month and as a part of my yearlong service, I am implementing a financial literacy component into the family literacy curriculum.

Although I have no skills training with financial literacy, my parents instilled in me the importance of good financial habits, and how developing good financial habits can lead you to achieve various goals in your life, such as owning a home. Financial literacy is so important to the economic success of a family. I consider achieving the goal of implementing a financial literacy component as the most important of my VISTA commitments. In order to achieve this, I have helped SBI partner up with many useful resources in the community. SBI welcomed VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistant) representative and Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS, Shanana Bartolomei, into our academies to give a workshop on the importance of filing your taxes and how to get them filed for free.

SBI also partnered with PNC Bank, who is sending representatives to do a variety of workshops with our adult students as well as their children. PNC Bank currently runs a program titled “S” is for Savings”, in which PNC has partnered with Sesame Street to develop a child-friendly program in order to get children thinking about good financial habits, and to also get parents more involved in developing good financial habits with their children. I will be working closely with PNC representative from our local Lantana and Jog Branch to continue giving workshops on useful topics such as “How to get out of Debt”.

By the end of the school year I will assist our program mentor in giving an in-service workshop to our current teaching staff on how to implement financial literacy into their already existing curriculum. This will ensure that financial literacy becomes a staple in the learning achieved at the SBI family literacy academies.

As I have been experiencing this journey, I have found three easy and useful things everyone should consider when developing good financial habits:

1) Pay Yourself First. Having a savings account or an emergency fund can always help with life’s bumpy roads.
2) Know The Difference Between Needs And Wants. Understanding and accepting this difference makes developing good financial habits easier
3) The Power of Interest. Most financial institutions will stress the power of interest both negatively, when your paying interest on debt, and positively, when your earning money for doing nothing.

Financial Literacy at Marion County Literacy Council

We’ve taken a varied approach to deliver financial literacy information to our students at the Marion County Literacy Council.

Dmitriy Usher

The biggest component of our Financial Literacy plans is the wonderful curriculum and great volunteers provided by United Way of Marion County. The volunteers from UWMC all come from the financial sector. These individuals, having years of experience in all aspects of banking, are poised to help our students from the most basic issues, such as personal finance and budgeting, up to the more complex issues like managing ones credit or home loans.

These volunteers will conduct classes, open to everyone, at our office. We spread the word throughout the community using flyers, free print space in local papers, mass-emailing of contacts, word of mouth, and travel to various locations in the community to spread the word in-person.

In addition to stand-alone classes, we also integrate the financial literacy sessions into existing classes here at the Literacy Council. We allot a small portion of class time from our college & career coaching program for financial literacy instruction. After all, when someone lands a job, they will need to be able to manage their income, right?

We’ve also asked our financial literacy instructors to speak to our various ESOL classes. When time allows, the ESOL tutor will dedicate a portion of their class time.

Along the way, we’ve formed some fantastic partnerships with like-minded non-profits who also occupy our building. We do our best to make sure financial literacy tutors will be available to meet with their students whenever they have a class here.

VISTA, Financial Literacy, and Manatee Reads!

Verna Urbanski

I am an Americorp VISTA volunteer with Manatee Reads! formerly The Literacy Council of Manatee County. I’m originally from Western Massachusetts, and when we came to Florida, we became exposed to a wide diversity of cultures and food. After my husband passed away, I heard that volunteering combats depression.  I was still working, and work was ok, but boy, when the weekends came, I found I couldn’t wait for Monday again. I had no purpose. Someone suggested the literacy council, and I thought why not, I could teach someone to read. I mean, all I had to do was give my time. So I signed up. I had volunteered before, but this time I was going to be my own boss and volunteer on my terms, weekends only!  You know how they say, “things happen for a reason”; well, they were looking for just what I had to offer. Fancy that!  After meeting with the director and going through the training, I was hooked. I could tutor right before NASCAR racing, or just before NFL kickoff. It turned out that what helped me was helping to make a difference in other peoples’ lives and in the community.

I had been tutoring for over two years when I lost my job. Not being too computer savvy, I called in my volunteer hours, as required, and right away the director asked “How are you” and I replied “Unemployed”.  Again, “things happen for a reason”.  She then proceeded to tell me about the summer VISTA position at the literacy council that I was selected for. While I couldn’t tutor students as a part of my VISTA position, (as VISTA does not allow for direct service) but I was growing again, learning new things, meeting people from all over (and getting new recipes too)! I thought I’d only do this for the summer while I searched for a new job, but the opportunities were dwindling and soon panic was setting in. When the organization was approved for a full-year VISTA, they asked me to stay and I did.

I’ve learned so much in this assignment, such as new computer skills, tweeting, and just think this will be my first blog post! I’ve also learned how to apply and prepare for writing grants for the financial programs. I’ve gained confidence in my ability to network with people that support Manatee Reads! and VISTA’s common interests. I reached out to CredAbility and spoke to them about helping us present a workshop on budgeting.  By exposing our needs and their services, when an opportunity arose, CredAbility immediately thought of us. Through my reaching out to them, they were able to partner with us to provide workshops to our students free of charge.

April is Volunteer Month, so get up, get out, be active and volunteer to make a difference in people and your community. The rewards are immeasurable.