The Rapidian

Breaking Down Financial Barriers: Launching a Long-Awaited Financial Wellness Program

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Dwelling Place collaborates with local partners to launch a culturally responsive financial wellness program for its residents.
Dwelling Place's Financial Coaches attended the NeighborWorks National Training Institute in December 2019.

Dwelling Place's Financial Coaches attended the NeighborWorks National Training Institute in December 2019. /Dwelling Place

Get connected to Dwelling Place's Mindful Money Program!

Dwelling Place’s summer/fall Mindful Money cohort launched on July 21 and will continue to run through the beginning of November. A winter cohort is scheduled to launch in January 2021. If you are interested in joining the Dwelling Place Coaching team, please contact [email protected]. Residents living in Dwelling Place’s Chaffee, Kelsey, Lenox, Martineau, Peterlien, New Hope and Grandville apartment communities are eligible to participate in the Mindful Money program and are encouraged to contact [email protected] for more details.

Dondreá Brown is the founder of 1428 Financial Wellness and the My Money and Me Academy.

Dondreá Brown is the founder of 1428 Financial Wellness and the My Money and Me Academy. /1428 Financial Wellness

“It’s about more than money; we believe that factors such as relationships, emotions, and health impact financial decision-making" remarks visionary and founder of 1428 Financial Wellness and the My Money Academy, Dondreá Brown. In 2018, Dwelling Place began exploring the opportunity to launch a resident-focused financial capabilities program featuring relationship building and empowerment. When Dwelling Place started talking to local partners about offering finance-related classes and workshops, a conversation with Brown led to a collaboration that Dwelling Place calls the Mindful Money Program.
This collaboration with 1428 Financial Wellness came naturally as both parties saw the value in the work of culturally responsive financial coaching. “Partnerships are vital because they enable us to serve individuals, families, and communities intentionally,” says Brown. "Through strong partnerships we co-construct clear goals and outcomes!”
Dwelling Place’s Mindful Money Program, which launched this summer with funding from United Bank, features two key components: access to dynamic educational programming and a direct connection to a cohort of peers and trained financial coaches. When designing the program, Dwelling Place staff recognized that its residents may face pressure on their time and resources. “Creating a learning environment that feels supportive and flexible is important,” says Dwelling Place AmeriCorps Member Haley Stichman. “We wanted to meet residents where they are, and recognize their unique experiences.”
Financial coaching is a relationship-based, client-directed, goal-focused approach that is centered on performance improvement and rooted in behavior change. Tammy Karas, one of Dwelling Place’s volunteer financial coaches, says “I wanted to become a financial coach because I know what it feels like to be financially overwhelmed.” Karas believes “everyone deserves to receive the resources and knowledge necessary to secure financial freedom and peace of mind.” Acting as a sounding board and tool provider, financial coaches work alongside residents to help identify and plan out their own goals as well as provide a level of accountability. Dwelling Place’s certified financial coaches are volunteers who have attended a week-long training program facilitated by NeighborWorks America
Social distancing restrictions did not hinder Dwelling Place’s ability to provide residents with interactive online money management workshops. Through Dwelling Place's partnership with the My Money Academy, residents and trained financial coaches have been meeting twice monthly to share tips, tricks and encouragement with one another throughout their program journey. Residents have engaged in both group and one-on-one coaching sessions via the digital platform Zoom. “These opportunities will empower residents to achieve their financial goals by providing resources that they can utilize in their everyday lives” believes Grace Thuo, volunteer financial coach and staff Accountant at Dwelling Place. Thuo believes that financial capability opportunities are important because “they will encourage the residents to take ownership of their finances and achieve positive outcomes.” 
Feedback from the Mindful Money cohort has been overwhelmingly positive. Tonia Lee, one of the resident participants, expressed that, “this class has given me so much knowledge and understanding in how to manage and invest my money.” She adds, “I would recommend this class to anyone that wants to get on the path to correct their credit and manage their money so that they can build a better future.” 
As our community continues to deal with a health and economic crisis due to COVID-19, financial capability programs are more important now than ever. Jess Zarik, Fuse Coordinator and one of Dwelling Place's program developers, remarks, "so many individuals do not have access to financial education to be in a state of financial 'health'--not only being able to set and achieve financial goals, but also to have savings in place for emergencies that could change anyone's life in an instant.” Zarik’s comments highlight why it was important for Dwelling Place to pivot during this time and launch its program despite being impacted by a global pandemic. “Having access to a financial capability program bridges that gap for community members, putting information and resources back into their hands, and ultimately back into the community around them," concludes Zarik.
With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Thanks to Haley Stichman and Jenn Schaub for their contributions to this article.

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