It’s not too often that Rob and I get all dressed up at the same time. Last week we were able to attend the South Bend Homeless Center Dancing With the Stars auction. No, we didn’t dance, and that’s probably a good thing for all who attended. We did, however, win one of the silent auctions which was pretty fun. The event brought in about $350,000, which I believe is a record year for the event. Rob did the prayer at the beginning, which is why he’s all decked out in a suit and tie in the above photo. We were honored to be a part of this year’s auction, and so happy so much money was raised for such a great cause.
In our home, we are teaching our kids financial responsibility at ages 13, 11 and 7. We give the girls a weekly allowance based on their age and capabilities because we want them to feel what it’s like to work hard for something, not just be given magic dollars from what they perceive as our seemingly bottomless purse and wallet. They are learning the value of money and the rewards of hard work and independence. These are life lessons that take effort to master, so our goal has been to start them on this path sooner rather than later. But as I learned from First Federal Savings Bank, it’s never too late to start!
The bridge from financial dependence to independence is never an easy one. The reasons for true poverty are all different, as each person and life circumstance is unique. Once someone is stuck in that cycle of poverty, it is increasingly difficult to pull out of it and provide a better life for the following generations. There are several low-income families in the inner city of South Bend who are crossing that bridge out of poverty and into financial security. Many of these families have been stuck in the cycles of poverty for generations and are making their way out with the help of First Federal Savings Bank and their Financial Literacy program.
Monroe Circle Financial Literacy Program
First Federal Savings Bank decided they wanted to share their expertise in financial management and donate time, resources and training to help bridge the gap out of poverty for people living in low-income housing around South Bend.
Romy Shortz, compliance officer for First Federal Savings ensures that First Federal Savings is giving back to the community in accordance with the Community Relations Act. According to this act, banks have to do some sort of community outreach such as teaching finances to those with low income. First Federal Savings has found their new “home” in the inner city of South Bend, and has immersed time, resources and volunteers at Monroe Circle and Edison Gardens Community Centers in South Bend. They showed up with knowledge and resources to share, never dreaming how significant an impact their students would have in their own lives.
Under the leadership of Romy Shortz and Maribeth Roncz, Financial Literacy volunteer program coordinator, the bank began teaching a financial literacy course at the Monroe Circle Community Center in downtown South Bend. The program has had remarkable results so far. It started last October and has been running a full year with almost a hundred participants between the children, teens and adults.
After a participant has completed three weeks of training, they are given $50 for their own new savings account, held by First Federal Savings. After every three weeks of attendance and completed materials, they are given another $50, so at the end of the 13 week course, the participants have $150 in a savings account, much more than most of them have ever had in a bank account of any kind.
The training is not just for adults. First Federal Savings also has a program for young children. They meet once a week for a story hour and are taught the importance of financial management at their age level. They are challenged each week to complete their school work or do extra chores to help out at home. When they accomplish tasks, they are given “play money” for a store that is set up with little trinkets they can buy with their play money. The prizes range from little token toys to bigger, more expensive items that a child can save up to purchase. One 6-year-old student asked if First Federal Savings could please put press-on nails in the store because she really wanted them.
Teenagers in these low-income areas are also encouraged to participate in the Financial Literacy program. They are given the opportunity to earn money toward a real savings account just like the adults, only they have the chance to make some extra cash on Thursday nights babysitting for the children of the parents attending the Financial Literacy adult classes.
One of the things that employees of First Federal Savings did not expect in volunteering for this program was the relationships that would result after leading discussion groups at the same tables with the same people for the 13-week course. The evening always starts with a meal provided by First Federal Savings, so there is a time to get to know each other over these shared meals and to discuss what is being taught, how the lessons are affecting their lives, and what changes they are going to make as a result.
One young woman with children was in an abusive relationship with a man she was living with. By the end of the 13-week course, she had built up confidence in her own abilities to escape her financial situation. She found the emotional support she needed from the table group she met with on a weekly basis at the community center and ended up leaving the man who was abusing her. She said that she could not have done it without the confidence gained from attending the class.
Another individual was living at the Center for the Homeless when he began the course. At the end of the course, he got a job, was able to set aside enough money to get his own apartment and moved in. His friends were so happy for him that two separate individuals gave him a television set for his new apartment. Since he had two, he gave one away. He told Maribeth Roncz, First Federal Savings volunteer, that he could not believe the great feeling he had when he was able to give away something that was his. He was never able to do that before, and that was truly a remarkable feeling.
Cathi Mills, a First Federal Savings employee from the Plymouth branch fell in love with the children in her Financial Literacy kids group. She and her family have built strong bonds with them and have even taken them on a day trip to the Plymouth race car park.
For the employees at First Federal Savings, the Financial Literacy program started out as something they “had to” do, but has turned out to be something they are passionate about, look forward to and give hours of their own time and resources to help run. They are excited to see the changes in the lives of the low-income families they are equipping with new financial skills.
One of the younger girls in the teen program proudly explained that she is not going to spend her money for a really long time, so she can save a whole lot of money.
“That,” Romy Shortz smiled and said, “is why we do what we do.”
This article appears in the November edition of Michiana Family magazine.
Sometimes I can put the sights and sounds of India in the back of my head somewhere. Sometimes I can ignore the pulling in my heart toward that place, the men, women, children. The never ending fields of rice and women in saris bent over, harvesting it. The women in saris serving me tea, giving all they have just to put a smile on my face and some nourishment in my belly. I can put it away for awhile, but the tug is always there.
Today, the tug is fierce. If you are on Facebook, you may have seen the picture floating around of a father standing on his daughter’s dead body. It was cruel and horriffic, but so utterly symbolic of what is happening in many parts of the world as we sip our lattes and drive our mini vans to soccer practice with a car full of iPod listening, gum-chewing tweens.
It’s when these two worlds collide that I am jolted awake most often. I just finished reading K.P. Yohanan’s book, “No Longer A Slumdog“. Gospel for Asia is reaching out to impoverished children, starting centers around India called “Bridge of Hope”. They provide water, education, micro finance training, health and hygiene classes, etc. We are doing all of these things in Southern India as well, but they are doing it on a much larger scale, over a large portion of India. The stories he told in this book are awful. In one story, he said that a group of mother’s travelled to a local market to sell their 50 children. They were not trying to financially benefit from the sale of their children, they were just trying to keep them alive.
He says, “Some are shocked by the statistic that there are 50 million child laborers in India alone, or that 1.2 million children are trafficked as slaves and prostitutes every single year.”
I pray every day that God would shine His light in the darkest places of India and around the world. In corners and alleys where children are being bought and sold. In fields where children as young as 4 and 5 are working 12 hour days only to get one bowl of rice at the end of the day. I pray that God would give us the tools to reach these children, tell their stories, speak up for those who can’t.
The tug is fierce today, and I can’t get away from it.
If you want to read the stories that Rob and I have written about church planters in India, our book Share the Well is available on Amazon here If you can’t afford the $20, let me know and I’ll hook you up. Every penny made goes back to India to help men and women church planters in Southern India.
Congrats to Elle White! Giveaway is now closed, but there will definitely be more chances in the near future!
We had so much fun last week at the Exponential conference in Orlando. Rob did a phenomenal job speaking, and telling the story of GCC and what we are up to around the world. Jeanna came along to sell our Share The Well books, and I got to sit at the table with her for a bit. It was so fun to tell the story of our book over and over again.
I listened to a few stories of church planters doing amazing things around the world, and was so inspired, I started giving away our books to a few of them.
Don’t worry, when I give away books, the church doesn’t pay for them, Rob and I do, and NO, we don’t get a discount. We believe so much in our book and what it is doing to help church planters in India, we love paying full price for a book that we have written without being paid. Is that funny or what?
Want a copy of Share the Well? I just so happen to have an extra, and I’d love to give it to someone. Just leave me a comment and tell me why you want it, and I will choose a winner on Friday!
Mark Beeson took the photo of me, Sheila and Jeanna. I like it because I love the two people in the photo with me so much. 🙂
Rob and I were asked to help serve communion for Granger’s Good Friday service. For me, there is no greater honor in the church than to offer the hope of salvation when we can stand together and serve as we say to each person, “The body of Christ broken for you”, and “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
I am always astounded at the different responses that people have as they receive communion. Some openly weep. Some look me right in the eyes and beam with joy. Others go through the motions with no readable expression.
One elderly man was carried out of his wheelchair by a man and woman, who held him up on either side as he made his way toward us. The man wore a hospital bracelet. I am almost certain he came directly from the hospital because of the bandages he wore, and the frailness of his body. I was touched by the act of love this man and woman offered him by bringing him to church on Good Friday. He was so close to Jesus in the sense that his days on this earth are limited. His hands were so weak that he could not pull the bread off the loaf. I had the privilege of breaking it off and handing it to him. As I did, I could not help but wonder if this is the last time this man would receive communion on this side of heaven. What if he wakes up tomorrow, and it isn’t the broken bread in his hand, but the real hand of Jesus?
Another family came up, their son obviously new to the communion scene. His dad held his hand, placed it on the bread and showed him how to break it off and dip it in the cup. The boy smiled so brightly and his dad was so proud. I couldn’t believe I got to be a part of that special moment.
As we stood and served, I had this profound sense of holiness and redemption. Perfection that lives in heaven that is brought to earth when believers come together to remember that He died, rose, and lives again that we might be forgiven and redeemed.
Living in those few minutes of perfection spoke deeply into my soul as one after another received the body and blood of Christ. Some looked Jesus in the eyes. Some shrugged it off as their crumbs fell to the floor. Others walk away transformed unknowingly by a grace they have yet to understand.
I was changed, and so grateful for the opportunity to serve that elderly man perhaps his last communion, and the little boy who held his dad’s hand and smiled.
Yep. I did it. I pulled the plug on my Facebook account last night. NO, I am not mad at anyone, trying to hide, or moving to Alaska. I have so many amazing friends on Facebook that I have gotten to know remarkably well considering I hardly see them in real life.
It’s just time to take a break. Someone asked me yesterday, “Is Facebook evil?” when I mentioned that I was taking a break to focus on Jesus this Holy week. My answer is absolutely not. Some times it’s just good to step away from the noise and just be.
If you are a GCC attendee, try to make it to Good Friday service this Friday at noon. Our whole family will be there!
Until then–spiritually speaking, I’ll be up on this Rock.
Hope you can tune out some of the noise, be still , and listen to what God is saying to you this Holy week.
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2