The Tempe Community Council is finding success with the latest addition to its Financial Stability Initiative, involving children and teens in the program.
TCC’s financial literacy program, a partnership with Arizona Saves, started in 2002 and reaches about 250 families a year through four education series. The workshop topics include building a better budget, taking charge of your credit, and preparing to purchase a home. Children, teens, and adults are divided among groups during the sessions where they receive age-appropriate information, explained Kate Hanley, director at TCC.
“It’s the one program I am proudest of because at the end our community is going to be much stronger and more resilient individually and as families,” said Hanley. “There’s no way you can really effectively measure how important that is.”
Cindy Weir, who attended a workshop with her family, said that when she was growing up nobody ever talked about money — creating a perception of fear. This, she said, wasn’t a healthy notion and one she did not want her two girls to have.
“We’re just hoping to sort of start a conversation, start a foundation,” said Weir, “So they’re comfortable managing their own money as they grow up.”
Financial education for children expanded last year through the after-school program, Kid Zone, where TCC and Arizona Saves sponsor a series of three courses for children ages 6-12 on managing money. This year, Kid Zone has locations in 17 Tempe schools.
“Parents who would normally come to pick up their kids at a certain time are coming later so that the kids can actually finish the program,” said Hanley.
With this year’s tax-filing deadline approaching on April 17, the FSI has also been busy offering free tax-preparation services and asset development opportunities for low-income families at Tempe Schools Credit Union. Those eligible for services are families that make less than $55,000 a year, and individuals making less than $35,000 a year.
Alice M. Posey Gaines has been getting her taxes done for four years at the credit union.
“I was kind of financially in a bind, and so I started coming here,” said Gaines. “It’s been wonderful. It takes a load off for me.”
The FSI has 106 volunteers involved with the tax program and 25 helping with financial education. Many of the tax preparation volunteers are accounting students from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said Diane Bennett, Financial Stability Initiative Coordinator.
It’s a wonderful match, Bennett said, because the students can get frontline experience while the program benefits from a fresh skilled cadre of volunteers. The volunteers, she said, connect people to resources and tools that will help them obtain financial stability.
“This is how change starts,” said Bennett. “This is the future, and it’s young people like the folks at W.P. Carey that are doing this. They’re going to make a difference in the world.”
ASU graduate student Brian Lehrich has been volunteering for two years now. The time he spends volunteering, he said, is worth about $480 an hour in terms of impact. But Lehrich, too, benefits from the experience.
“I’m volunteering here, especially because it’s my particular skill-set,” said Lehrich. “Using my education is worthwhile.”
Another volunteer, Fred Phail, said he had never prepared taxes, but got involved nine years ago because he wanted to help people. After three years, the TCC awarded him a scholarship to take classes at H&R Block School where he could improve his skills.
“It’s been very beneficial, not only rewarding to help people,” said Phail, who now works part-time at H&R Block. “It’s helped me grow.”
Other Valley cities don’t have anything nearly as comprehensive, said Hanley.
“We’re big, but we’re small enough to get things done,” said Hanley. “We’re all these different programs, but we’re working together toward one goal, and we talk about it in terms of being collectively impactful.”
The TCC tax-preparation service has received best practice recognition at local, regional, and national levels, and its model has been adopted by other organizations like United Way, said Hanely.
The FSI will soon offer a collaborative class with the Financial Planning Association, targeting city employees and employees of non-profits.