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February 14, 2011 / HandsOnCorps

Financial Literacy in Michigan: An Update from the Field

I work in the office of United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties.  These counties are in the heart of rural Michigan, a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and Montcalm County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

For the last five years, the Montcalm Ionia Financial Action Alliance has supported the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offered by the Internal Revenue Service.  $1.9 million has been returned to the citizens of the two counties through refunds and tax credits.  In 2010, for the 2009 tax year, the amount returned was $712,000.  Volunteers observed that some of the clients would be under less financial stress if they were signed up for all the benefits for which they were eligible and if they could better manage the resources that they had.  Expansion of the program to include financial literacy and benefits access seemed to be the next logical step.

Enter the AmericorpsVISTAs.  My jobs are to start a financial mentoring program and to find a group to pilot a TimeBank.  So far, I have researched free and inexpensive financial literacy materials, talked to a couple ministerial associations, a Lion’s Club, and teacher retiree group, lined up about 5 volunteers, and talked to a couple organizations that offer financial mentoring, as well as the local Michigan State University Extension staff.  It seems that there are few organizations that have mentoring programs.  The next things on the agenda are to have the volunteers choose a curriculum to base the program on, plan training, and find clients.

The TimeBank idea is unique, although there are TimeBanks that have been running successfully for years.  Members of the bank can request an hour of volunteer service for every hour of volunteer service that they give.  The thinking behind TimeBanking is that neighboring is more effective than charity in creating happy, healthy communities.  TimeBanks create support networks within communities, and resident members are both contributors and recipients.

Along with these assignments, there have been other activities, such as, Community Cinema, MLK Day of Service, and Sunday Supper.  Garbage Dreams was the cinema that we presented to a Venture Crew, since I felt that the youth would identify with the teens in the film.  The other VISTA in our office helped with planning for the MLK Day of Service in Ionia and I went along as a volunteer.  The day included a soup lunch, a speaker who talked about the global and local communities, displays about volunteering, a Peace March, and a youth activity centered around No Name Calling Week.

-Margaret Durga
AmeriCorpsVISTA
United Way of Montcalm-Ionia Counties

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