Financial Literacy: Every penny counts
$en$e-Ability Blog Series

Debra DeBondt, Deputy Director at Opening Doors, Inc.

A little over a year ago, when I learned that United Way California Capital Region was going to support our MoneyWork$ program I was absolutely thrilled. I helped develop and teach Opening Doors’ first financial literacy classes about six years ago, for our microenterprise clients whose poor personal financial management skills were dragging down their businesses. The classes were useful, but they weren’t enough. 

Participants could sit through a budgeting class and learn some very useful tips about banking, and they definitely got good things from the sessions. However, what they really needed was the tools and support to focus on and clarify their financial goals, to develop plans for reaching those goals, and then to stick with their plans. United Way California Capital Region has given us the chance to provide such a program in both English and Spanish.

MoneyWork$ combines financial education, hands-on-workshops, peer support and individual financial coaching in a six-month program.  Participants invest in the MoneyWork$ process by paying a modest enrollment fee. If they fulfill the basic program requirements (session attendance, budgeting homework, etc.) we give them a completion savings award for twice their initial payment at a graduation ceremony. We’ve learned a lot in the past year. We’ve adjusted the program in a few ways, but basically our initial idea has been sound and we’ve seen some wonderful success stories. 

I feel very privileged to be allowed into the lives of the participants I work with. Most of them work very hard, struggling to develop new habits like tracking every penny they spend and regularly tallying expenses on a budget worksheet. My heart goes out to them as they hit the walls of resistance when it comes time to look their deficit budget in the eye, or decide which spending category is going to have to shrivel up in order to make a significant dent in the debt. Living in these economic and political times, we all know about that. I see some of them going through, as individuals, what we are all going through as a nation. 

We do our best to help those who are struggling with hard choices to stay clear about their priorities and goals. Some manage with seeming ease.  A few find a way to increase their income. A few drop out. We almost always see positive change in terms of decreased expenses, increased savings, decreased debt and wiser use of the financial system. Even a little savings or debt reduction can be huge for participants who’ve long felt stuck and unable to free themselves from cycles of increasing debt. 

At times the change is dramatic. Our most amazing success stories have been among those of our Hispanic participants who have never understood the U.S. financial system or been exposed to budgeting. I have been deeply moved by the sense of empowerment some of them have felt when they’ve gained knowledge and skills and have begun saving, something they never imagined was possible.

We are incredibly grateful to United Way California Capital Region and its many donors for giving us the chance to bring our MoneyWork$ dream to life, and to in turn bring to life the dreams of our participants.

Debra DeBondt loves helping people realize their full potential and is thrilled to be able to work at Opening Doors where she is part of a team that is doing this every day.


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