Money School Gives Value to Those in Need

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by Lucy Medvec, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday at Catholic Charities and the lobby is filled with people waiting to attend the Money School, the weekly financial literacy class. There is a sense of anxiety and hope as they wait for the class to begin, the first step in the process of potentially receiving financial assistance for rent or utility bills.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

Since 2012, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) has been “teaching people to fish” through its financial education class, the Money School. The nonprofit financial education program’s attendance reached a record number of 1,600 students in the past fiscal year. The Money School has evolved into a two-hour class offered on a weekly basis, followed by a “needs” assessment and personal financial coaching sessions with CCNLA case managers. It is mandatory that all clients who seek financial help for rent or utilities must attend the Money School in order to be considered for assistance. Class size in Shreveport is limited to 30 people per week and clients can only be considered for assistance once every 24 months.

The premise of the Money School is to help clients review their current spending habits and evaluate their “financial leaks” – habits that may drain their resources and leave little money to cover the basics (rent, food and utilities) – in order to make smarter money decisions. The Shreveport Money School is taught by CCNLA’s case managers, Carl Piehl and Joe Bulger, who work hard to make the class relatable and informative.

Piehl, who has been with the Money School since its beginning, teaches the class with enthusiasm. He describes the evolution of the Money School as “a living laboratory that experimented with new ideas, new approaches, new source material and media to connect powerfully with our clients.”

Clients in the class are pre-tested and post-tested for financial literacy. Scoring indicates a 40% improvement on a consistent basis, with many who have attended the class reporting that it has been a life changing experience for them.

The Money School can be defined as the beginning of the journey of financial capability, stability and ultimately the accomplishment of our client’s self-described goals. The needs assessment session conducted by CCNLA case managers provides an opportunity to discuss with clients how they perceive their situation and to reveal possible solutions to their problems. After meeting with the week’s clients, Piehl and Bulger meet to select who will receive partial assistance with their bills. It is never an easy task. Because of limited resources, CCNLA is only able to assist 25-30% of each week’s applicants.

“Some weeks, every client is eligible to receive assistance,” says Piehl. “There are many people struggling in our community, but we are only able to help a few of them financially. The true value we hope to give all of our clients is the lessons we teach in the Money School and through financial coaching.”

As the poverty levels rise across north Louisiana, so does the weekly attendance of the Money School. With all three locations serving a total of 40-45 clients per week, the lessons taught in the Money School are vital in the quest to create financial change. Clients who attend the Money School are contacted three months following the class to assess if they are putting the lessons they learned into practice. This is a service provided to all clients, whether or not they received financial assistance from CCNLA. Bulger sees the call as an important follow-up to the Money School class.

“Before we started contacting clients, we had no idea if they were actually putting the financial education steps into action,” explains Bulger. “The phone calls give us a chance to check in and also remind the client that they are always welcome to come in for free financial coaching.”

CCNLA’s Money School and Emergency Assistance programs are made possible in part by grants by The Community Foundation of North Louisiana, The Carolyn W. and Charles T. Beaird Family Foundation, First Presbyterian Church – Shreveport, First United Methodist Church – Shreveport, The Grayson Foundation, The Powers Foundation, United Way of Northwest Louisiana, and the support of individual donors. •

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