Written By: Jennifer Pohlsander, AFC Candidate
In 2020, amid COVID I started working on my AFC certification. It seemed nearly impossible to find opportunities for experience hours (use a different word than amid again) amid the restrictions. In addition to that obstacle, my family moved halfway across the country where I would have to make new connections. After attempting to reach out to a nearby military installation financial readiness office several times, it became apparent that they were not in a position to accept volunteers. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to look next, so I scheduled a meeting with a program administrator to discuss how to complete my hours. She challenged me to look for opportunities locally. Not long after that, my church hosted a meeting inviting local organizations that needed volunteers to share their opportunities. A representative from a local community shelter for unhoused persons was there presenting. A friend of mine who regularly volunteered at the shelter serving meals was familiar with the staff, and she offered to introduce me to one of the representatives. He was in the process of developing new programs and was thrilled to have my assistance in offering financial resources and counseling. Personal safety was a concern initially, but I felt more at ease after he explained the rules of conduct and patron expectations. I was excited to help, but at this point unsure how to begin.
Public speaking and giving presentations are not my strength. So, I went a different route. With the help of an experienced AFC mentor and a creative friend, I developed a series of three workshops. The interactive workshops helped me get to know the patrons and build rapport in a casual setting before scheduling individual sessions. As part of each workshop, I planned a participation activity or game and provided something to take with them such as a notecard, worksheet, or handout. When preparing for the activities it was important to acknowledge the varying literacy levels of the patrons, understanding that some patrons may have difficulty reading or writing due to education levels or a disability. I didn’t call on anyone in particular to read. Instead, I read aloud or asked for a volunteer.
I developed three workshops. The basic content and style of the workshops are outlined below:
1. Word Association
Sheets of paper were posted on the board, numbered 1-14. On the back of each sheet was a financial term. The participant chose a number and I read the term on the back. The participant responded with the first word that came to mind. I asked the group if anyone thought of the same word and if any other words came to mind. We then discussed the term, what it meant and our perception of it. Some of the terms were: credit card, taxes, insurance, savings, investment, income, expenses, debt, and interest.
We then discussed goal setting and I introduced them to SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. They were given a note card and asked to write a goal on the note card. Then they were challenged to share the goal with one person who is an encouragement to them that week and take one step, no matter how small, toward achieving the goal. One patron’s goal was to buy a car to visit family several states away that they hadn’t seen in many years and hug them in person. I take it for granted that I can hop in my car and visit family and friends anytime.
2. The Bean Game
This game helped participants decide how to best use their money. Participants were divided into groups of two or more. Each group was given 25 dry beans that represented money. They were then given cards with categories where they needed to spend their money such as food, housing, insurance, childcare, transportation, utilities, and clothing. Typical life scenarios that caused an unexpected expense were added to make the challenge more difficult. Managing money means making choices. Each group worked together to decide how to budget for their expenses. Afterward, we discussed their choices and compromises. During this activity, I overheard a husband in one group remark to his wife that he would give up cigarettes so they could afford a nicer apartment. In the same session, I observed that only one group chose to put money in savings.
Next, I introduced a simple spending plan and gave each participant a worksheet to take home.
3. Take a Stand
I placed two signs on opposite walls in the room. One read “Strongly Agree” and the other read “Strongly Disagree.” A statement regarding finances was read aloud. Then the participants physically stood along the line according to their opinions. Some of the statements were: credit is bad, using a credit card is a good way to track expenses, and credit card use causes bankruptcy. We then discussed their choices and why they felt that way. Some chose to move to another spot after a few minutes of discussion had changed their perspective on the topic. This activity prompted a patron to discuss his struggle with divorce and the shame he felt over his bankruptcy. He was recently disabled and unable to pay child support. He could not afford to pay an attorney or to travel several hundred miles to the state where the divorce was filed to seek an adjustment to the current amount he was ordered to pay. He was strongly opposed to bankruptcy but felt he had no other choice due to his circumstances.
An explanation of credit reports and the importance of checking your credit report regularly was shared along with the website for a free credit report every 12 months (annualcreditreport.com). The group was challenged to check their credit report and verify that the information was accurate including previous accounts and addresses.
Things I learned: I absolutely love the workshop format! The group as a whole learned so much when we shared and heard new perspectives.
My advice to AFC candidates who need experience hours: Look for volunteer opportunities close to home. If there isn’t a program in place already, don’t be afraid to create one!
In summary, it was my observation that the people I met with at the shelter experienced homelessness for one or more of the following reasons: injury (couldn’t work), lost job, lost housing, lost transportation (car accident, car impounded, or repossession), divorce, spouse passed away, and substance abuse. For many, it seemed to be a series of unfortunate events occurring close together that led to experiencing homelessness. In 2019, a widely cited report from brokerage firm Charles Schwab found that 59% of Americans were just one paycheck away from homelessness. According to HUD, in December 2022, 582,462 individuals were experiencing homelessness. (security.org)