CFLE in Context: Financial Literacy

by Heather Johnson
Content Area
Family Resource Management

Always wanting to be a mother and help children, I never imagined myself working outside the home, let alone having a career that I love. As a young adult I was a nanny, and luckily that family had a condition for employment- to be in school. So I went to the community college (grudgingly at first) yet I actually enjoyed it, especially the child development courses. I decided for myself I would like to get my Bachelor's degree, so I went to California State University Long Beach. At the orientation of the Child Development program, a professor came in and told us about the Family Life Education program. I had never heard of anything like it, but it was exactly what I had always been looking for. I completed both majors, and minored in communication. I loved all of my classes and really found a love for education. I knew I wanted to help families, and I discovered I loved teaching adults even more than children. I felt I could make more of an impact teaching parents. When I walked at my graduation ceremony, I was 41 weeks pregnant and excited to start my own family as well as help others.

Growing up, my dad taught me the importance of finances — the rewards and consequences. Realizing the significance of financial management, especially during these slow economic times, I knew there was a need. I chose to do my internship at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County, (CCCS-OC) a non-profit organization in Southern California. My values and their mission were a perfect match, to educate and empower consumers, and to assist in achieving financial stability. After four months of writing curriculum and teaching financial classes, I was blessed that I was offered a full time job as a Financial Educator. I have had the opportunity to teach 8,000 youth and adults in 2 years, on a variety of financial topics including Balancing Personal Finances, Understanding Credit Reports and Scores, Homebuyer Education, ID Theft, Insurance Basics, as well as many others. With my background in Family Life Education, I was able to add a new aspect to finances- the family. I developed curriculum for Money in Marriage and Raising a Money Smart Child, as those are both critical to family functioning, yet so often do not get addressed. I found many people are interested in these topics, but most people never knew where to go for help and resources for these types of conversations. One of my specialties is Homeownership Education. This is complimented very nicely with Family Life Education, as finances are only one aspect of homeownership. I also talk to these clients about their responsibility to their children's schools, neighborhoods, and community when they own a home. I emphasize the importance of voting and taxes, and how they should be actively involved. The main content areas that I frequently address as a Financial Educator include societal contexts, internal dynamics of families, interpersonal relationships, and parent education.

There is no typical day in the life of a Financial Educator. Every day is different, and that is what makes it exciting! My main focus is to deliver financial education to the community, but a lot goes in to getting to that point. It requires hours and days of training, research, developing curriculum, finding people who would like to host classes, and actually scheduling classes. I frequently teach at resource centers, senior centers, shelters, churches, and schools. There is a lot of networking that goes into advertising for a non-profit organization, so I frequently attend community resource fairs to inform the public and other partners about the services that are offered. I also attend meetings for the California Credit Union League and "Bank-On Orange County" so I can be actively involved in the financial community. I frequently attend trainings to bring the most current and accurate information to the people I teach. I love attending trainings, doing research, and writing curriculum, but the most tedious part for me is formatting it and making it look appealing and easy to read. It is very different than writing a paper for school! One of the benefits of my work is that I can sometimes work from home when I am reading and writing. Other times I teach all day as a guest speaker at a high school, then community classes at night. My schedule is always changing and is usually very flexible, which can be nice but also frustrating. I have had to get very organized and make sure all appointments are written down so I don't miss any.

The time of the year dictates my schedule and priorities a great deal. The beginning of every year brings a lot of attention to taxes, and teaching finances means being involved with taxes. I am a certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) preparer in order to assist low to moderate income tax payers save on preparation fees and not be persuaded into high interest loans. I developed Community Tax Awareness, a class that is usually taught to low-income populations who are intimidated by taxes and do not claim the refund they are entitled to. I have presented this workshop with 2 IRS representatives for parents at an elementary school. This workshop helps families in many ways. It empowers them to interact with the government, who they usually feel removed from and scared of. It puts money back into their wallet for basic necessities. I teach them how to open a bank account, the importance of savings, or getting the medical attention they have been putting off because of lack of funds.

October brings Protect Your Identity Week, for which I have helped coordinate "Shred It Day" to help families and small business properly dispose of any personal information that may compromise their safety. I always emphasize the importance of protecting your children's identity as well, because most parents do not realize child identity theft is on the rise. In October 2010, a group of affiliates of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling set the Guinness World Record for The Most Paper Shredded. Although identity theft is a serious topic, we like to have fun with it too!

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County was able to introduce the Rebuilding Financial Stability program to 180 families who have greatly suffered from the economic downturn and want to reestablish their finances at no cost to them. This is a new model for CCCS-OC, and would be considered financial case management. I have had the pleasure of developing this new program, and I work closely with these families on their goals and spending. A lot of my time now goes into assisting them and leading their support groups.

I love to participate in volunteer opportunities for my community. When United Way hosted Walk United to End Poverty, my friends, co-workers, and I were right there with our walking shoes. I think it is very important to support other good causes that you believe in, especially when you are always asking for their support! I am also involved in the Young Professionals Society of Orange County, in which we volunteer our time and talents towards helping those in need.

My work is very rewarding when I see families grow together in spite of their financial distress. I love helping and giving them the tools and confidence they need to tackle something that they do not want to deal with. When I first meet my clients, most of them bury their head and do not even know what is going on, they just know they need help. I see people from many different socioeconomic classes in Orange County. Everyone needs to know how to manage their money, it doesn't matter how much or how little anyone has. Many consumers come to one workshop to check it out, and then they end up coming to all of them because they do not feel alone and they leave empowered and equipped with new awareness. It is extremely rewarding to see families pay off their debt and gain control of their finances. Most people are very grateful for the time and knowledge shared to help improve their quality of life. CCCS-OC has a yearly celebration for the consumers who paid off all of their debt. It is great to see them so excited to move forward with their lives now debt-free. The 202 graduates of 2011 paid off 4.7 million collectively over the last 3 to5 years. This not only helps them personally, but also greatly assists our community and economy. At the celebration, it is very affirming that the work I do every day is making a difference.

I love what I do, but every job has frustrating times now and then. When people are required to attend classes, it can make teaching more difficult and changes the whole atmosphere of the workshop. Youth can be the most challenging or the most grateful audience. Some youth do not care, while others absorb it and see the importance of using cash and credit wisely. Other challenges include coordinating schedules, since many partners would like evening classes on the same dates and times. It can be difficult to get from one venue to another on time in traffic, so it takes a lot of coordinating and planning to reach as many people as possible without overextending myself.

Being raised in a family who openly talked about finances, it is easy for me to talk to consumers about something society sees as such a personal and private topic. Finding your niche that you enjoy is extremely important. My recommendation for Family Life Educators is to stay flexible enough to incorporate the family into any topic that you are interested in. Whatever area of work you choose, become active and involved. It is important for CFLE's to bring new knowledge and perspective to every field. People love what we do, they just don't know who we are€¦ yet.