It happened Saturday, November 23rd. We graduated class #8 with another 19 participants, making this 150 graduates over the last four years! It was a beautiful event, and the snow whipping around was just a symbol of the perseverance of each participant.
For Mary Gills, keeping track of her receipts has allowed her to take control of her expenses and better manage her money. “Oh my gosh! You don’t even spend time thinking how much you’re spending, but when you have it on paper, it just blew me away,” she recounted.
By keeping track of every single expense, participants could see how all the little expenses–i.e. slurpees, cigarettes, or eating out–could really add up. Mary explains, “That was key for me–seeing where my money is going. And then even more when you times your expenses by a week, and then you times it by a month, and then you times it by a year.”
“I can organize my life now, and I’m really going to follow through on that.”
Sham Gullett, another participant, noted that something she’s been learning is how to budget her money, distinguishing between what’s a need and what’s a want, and realizing how you can save some of your own money: “I’m taking away how to make a budget for my money and the different resources that are here in South Bend. I’m learning a lot with what’s available for me, a person with very little income.”
In short, through the many tools and resources that the Bridges Financial Management Class offers, many of the participants now feel a greater sense of agency and self-empowerment. As Mary relates,
“I’m glad that I’m able to be a participant and that something like this is available in the city. We’re beginning to get ahead. It’s going to be a process and you’re going to have to work through it, but you can get there.”
When asked what she was most taking away from this course, she replied, “Overall, the tools that we need to go forward from where we are at. I love it because the class is here to help you if you want to follow through on anytime. They are available. People don’t do that these days. You know what I mean? I think it’s excellent that they are doing this for us.”
It was moving to hear the participants talk about the importance of the mentors — people they trusted to ask difficult financial questions to. Our mentors include
Andy Harlow, President of First Federal’s Elkhart Division, who has been a weekly mentor for seven of our eight classes. When asked why he does this 20 Saturdays out of the year, Andy said, “The participants give me more than I could ever give them.”
We want to thank the United Way of St. Joseph County for their financial support. We couldn’t have done it without you!
We also want to thank Lake City Bank, which provides 100% of the incentives, and particularly Ralph Villalon who makes every class graduation! Thanks Dale Cracker and Ivy Tech Community College for providing the perfect space!
We want to thank our other speakers and mentors, who include: Nancy King (our Bridges Board Chair), Linda Curley, Judy Fox, Mike Gionfriddo, Elaine Kendall, Montana Knapp, Stephanie Leniski (another Board member), Debra Voltz-Miller, Michael Weathers, and Peter Woo.