published Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

United Way program in Chattanooga trains agencies to teach money skills

Sam Owens walks through the four acres he shares with his wife Odine Owens  that was destroyed in the April tornado and which has since been cleaned up a little with the help of the Samaritan Center in Oolewah. United Way of Chattanooga has received a $150,000 FINRA grant that will help them improve financial literacy and education among at-risk rural populations.
Sam Owens walks through the four acres he shares with his wife Odine Owens that was destroyed in the April tornado and which has since been cleaned up a little with the help of the Samaritan Center in Oolewah. United Way of Chattanooga has received a $150,000 FINRA grant that will help them improve financial literacy and education among at-risk rural populations.
Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Odine Owens, 68, looks through information about her EPB bill (which she is trying to reduce) in the office of Sharon Smith-Hensley at the Samaritan Center in Ooltewah on Monday. United Way of Chattanooga has received a $150,000 FINRA grant that will help them improve financial literacy and education among at-risk rural populations.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Odine Owens sits at her kitchen table in Apison holding a picture of her husband, Sam, as he makes his way through the hole they had to cut out through the limbs of a tree that fell, blocking the entrance to their home during the April tornado.
    Photo by Alex Washburn.
    enlarge photo

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GET INVOLVED

For more information, visit www.uwchatt.org. Individuals who need credit counseling can call 2-1-1 for referral to financial services.

training sessions

Each training session is free and open to all nonprofits, but registration is required by contacting Sara Collier at saracollier@cnpchatt.org or calling 423-752-0329.

"Money Defense -- Protect Yourself"

Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation

One Siskin Plaza

Oct. 26, 8:30 a.m.-noon.

Two sessions: "Taking Charge & Planning for Your Future" and "Money Defense -- Protect Yourself"

Chattanooga Housing Authority

801 N. Holtzclaw Ave.

Nov. 2, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m

"Holiday Spending"

UT Extension Office -- Hamilton County

6183 Adamson Circle, Bonny Oaks Industrial Park

Nov. 10, 10 a.m.-noon and 6-8 p.m.

"Avoiding High Electric Bills"

Electric Power Board

10 W. M.L. King Blvd.

Nov. 16, noon-2 p.m.

Two sessions: "Taking Charge & Planning for Your Future" and "Money Defense -- Protect Yourself"

Center for Nonprofits/United Way Building

630 Market St.

Dec. 7, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Unbalanced budgets are bad enough without a tornado throwing them completely off-kilter.

Sam and Odine Owens already were coping with a rash of high medical bills, soaring electrical bills and mounting car payments when the April 27 tornadoes struck. The storms tore down 300 trees on their property -- including three that fell on their home in Apison.

Odine Owens was so distraught with their plight, she doesn't even remember meeting Sharon Smith-Hensley, social services director for the Samaritan Center in Ooltewah, during those first hard days.

But that meeting changed her life. Smith-Hensley followed up with Odine Owens, and the two didn't just discuss the Owens' tornado damages.

Odine, 67, has diabetes, while Sam, 68, is legally blind in one eye. She is retired, while he works part time as a custodian for Catoosa County Schools.

Smith-Hensley started delving into the couple's financial straits, combing over their entire household budget and compiling an inch-thick folder of their payments and debts.

"They were making it financially, but on closer look we realized they were making it by the skin of their teeth," said Smith-Hensley, who helped set the couple up on a cost-cutting, budget-building plan.

Smith-Hensley is one of a growing number of nonprofit workers who has gone through a new financial literacy training program through United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and United Way Worldwide, a coalition with the local United Way has developed a program they've called CASH -- "Creating Assets, Savings and Hope through financial know-how."

The program offers free training to community agencies in hopes of creating more financial literacy "coaches" that can link at-risk communities with something longer-lasting than money: Money skills.

Jamie Bergeman, who works with United Way as the vice president of Building Stable Live and Allocations, pursued the grant in hopes of breaking a cycle of "quick fixes." Instead of setting up food boxes for needy families week after week, she wants to teach them budgeting basics.

"A lot of our local agencies are trying to move people from that relief point and toward better self-sufficiency," Bergeman said. "Financial education is something we haven't tackled as much in the past."

Along with the training sessions for nonprofits, the coalition is planning a series of short workshops on specific issues that will be open to the public.

Linda Rath, who co-teaches the training sessions and is director at Consumer Credit Counseling with the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, said a program like CASH Chattanooga is overdue, particularly with the recession.

"I still am stunned at the number of people who are getting themselves trapped in these high interest rates, loans and fees, and they don't know what they're signing themselves up for -- and then something happens," she said. "They come from all backgrounds and incomes."

Besides attending the training sessions, nonprofits and caseworkers can request specific materials or instruction on issues like bankruptcy or tax relief. They are given sample budgeting worksheets and references to consumer credit counseling to give their clients.

"It has given us more tools and resources for our clients," said Smith-Hensley. "The more we know, the more we can help our clients."

Because of their meetings with Smith-Hensley and Rath, the Owenses are reworking their health insurance plan, which they were overpaying on.

They're planning to sell one of their cars and better insulate their house to save on electricity bills.

"I'm not going to give up," Odine Owens said. "I started this journey, and I'm going to travel the whole journey through."

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