Extension-Based CFLE and Veterans Service Office Partner to Deliver Financial Literacy Program to Veterans
I come at you with a practitioner focus on working with veteran individuals and families. My experience is limited, but important. I am in the trenches, so to speak. I hear the stories, struggles, and successes of people in many walks of life. I am an extension educator in a small, somewhat rural community. Extension educators, or agents as we are sometimes called, are tasked with bringing research based, non-biased information and programs to all people. If you are not familiar with Cooperative Extension, I encourage you to do a search for Cooperative Extension to find what is available in your state. There is at least one Cooperative Extension in each state, and each operates differently. I provide extension services under the umbrella of the Family and Consumer Sciences program at Ohio State University. In other words, I teach people life skills in all areas of life and across the lifespan.
In our Family and Consumer Sciences program, only a handful of us are Certified Family Life Educators (CFLEs), including myself. Even though we all may not be CFLEs, much of the work we do is focused on supporting families in different contexts. I provide programming focused on financial literacy for youth and adults, child development, and health and wellness, to name a few of my responsibilities.
About a year ago, I was contacted by our Veterans Service (VS) Office in the local community. Veterans Service helps veterans with many things, including financial support when needed. To receive financial support, veterans must come before the VS Board and explain why they are seeking funds. The VS Board was finding that a few veterans repeatedly sought financial help through the office. The VS Board felt someone or something was needed to help veterans receiving funds better understand how to use the financial assistance responsibly to reduce the reoccurrence of requests for such aid from VS. I have partnered with VS to provide financial classes to veterans who are seeking financial help. As a means for providing a service that is incredibly valuable to veterans, a usually underserved population, the partnership has been of great benefit to all involved.
I feel that in many regards, people have a vision about what a veteran looks and acts like. Coming from a younger generation, my previous view of veterans stemmed from the only veteran I know, my grandpa. It is important to note that veterans come from many walks of life. In the first year of this partnership, I have worked with approximately 10 veterans whose ages have reached across the lifespan. I have met with an older man in his 80s who told me stories about his time serving overseas. He lives by himself, has cut back all expenses, and needed help paying property taxes on his lakefront property. In the same week, I met with a young man in his 30s, newly out of the military, who was seeking funds to help pay for college expenses at a local university. I met with a woman who has endured many surgeries and, as a result, is on disability and struggling to pay medical bills. Teaching Family Life Education (FLE) content requires adapting the content to fit the life circumstances of clients across the lifespan and at different life stages. Veterans are at different ages and stages and all have different lived experiences. Recognizing and considering these differences are key to CFLEs better reaching veterans and their family members regarding successful family resource management.
The “Manage Your Money” financial literacy program, developed by educators through Ohio State University Extension, is content driven and includes activities and worksheets for participants. An important feature of the curriculum is its family orientation. For example, one section includes suggestions about how to talk to your co-spenders, including spouse, partner, parents, kids, and other members of the household. Topics include how to use “I-messages” and how to have a calm, productive conversation. Worksheets and activities also promote family communication, with such activities as having co-spenders answer the same questions individually and then compare responses to see whether they are on the same page regarding financial priorities, and holding a family meeting during which the whole family agrees on and sets financial goals. Having a background in FLE equips service providers with knowledge that can help drive these points home. Family Life Educators always bring a focus on family to the forefront, including when talking about money and resources management.
Providing financial education to veterans taps into the FLE content area of Family Resource Management as well as these four content areas:
Families and Individuals in Societal Context. Veterans’ experiences related to leaving the military vary greatly with the historical context. According to the 2019 Pew Research report “Key Findings About America’s Military Veterans” (https://pewrsr.ch/38V8bHb), most veterans (61%) and civilians (64%) agree that most Americans look up to service members and veterans. This has not always been the case, as discussed in 2019 by Tara McKelvey in “Are US veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam Treated Equally?” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48779253).
Internal Dynamics of Families. Many times, financial problems stem from something that happens within the family. Divorce, moving, and deployment are examples of stressors that can impact internal family dynamics, family financial stability, and other aspects of family well-being.
Interpersonal Relationships. Working with a co-spender who is a significant other on shared decision-making, as well as maintaining mutual respect and open communication during financial hardship, are critical to achieving financial stability.
Family Life Education Methodology. Engaging participants in different ways and embracing the diversity of the audience are integral components of FLE methodology.
Although veterans and their families experience unique challenges, they share some challenges with civilian families, including financial worries. Working with VS has shown me how much can be accomplished for and with families when extension-based FLE services partner with other community agencies.
Katie Schlagheck, M.S., CFLE, is a Family and Consumer Sciences Educator at the Ohio State University Extension, focusing on financial literacy, child development, and health and wellness. Katie holds a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Central Michigan University.