New Community Ambassador Program Takes Off
By: Ashima Gandhi
In December 2016, Restoration’s Economic Solutions Center (ESC) received a grant from MetLife to pilot a financial empowerment program that promotes financial literacy skills to improve financial wellbeing in Bed-Stuy. The project trains qualified people to become trained in personal finance and then spread the knowledge within the rest of the community as ambassadors. The first batch of participants recently celebrated the completion of their training. Molly Ornati, Associate Program Manager, spoke to Restoration Connection and explained how the program works and how it benefits the community.
ESC began the process by sending out mass emails and contacting local organizations to introduce the program. Those interested in participating filled out an online application detailing their professional experience and why they were interested in being a financial empowerment ambassador. Out of 23 applicants, only eight were selected.
This was followed by six weeks of classes at Restoration where the Fellows – as the program participants are known -- learned basic financial skills from budgeting to savings. The training provided the participants with many valuable tools to help individuals and families seeking to improve their financial situations. Afterwards, the Fellows took part in an eight day professional training course in Financial Counseling offered by the City University of New York (CUNY). Described by Ornati as “vigorous,” the CUNY training program is led by Joyce Moy, a highly sought after instructor who trains all 23 organizations within New York City offering similar financial counseling. The 3-month program culminates in a supervised internship and hands-on experience as a community ambassador. In the next nine months, each of the ambassadors is expected to recruit a minimum of three clients a month for counseling, coach them through the process of establishing a savings plan, and address their financial concerns.
In the final wrap-up session, one of the participants shared the value she gained from this program. “What I learned, above all, is that you are in control. This will help me help other people,” she said. The program also highlighted some common misconceptions and doubts people have about banks. One of the Fellows admitted, “I haven’t opened a bank account because I have a fear of fraud, fear of something bad happening to the people around me.” As a result of the training, this person was able to overcome his doubts and open a savings account at Capital One bank. Another Fellow expressed the reality of debt in his neighborhood, “Debt paralyzes the community,” he said. “It is a historical trauma. My community is deep in debt: It changes our focus and perceptions. It disables our choices.”
Ornati pointed out that the support mechanisms built into the program allow people to become effective peer mentors, limit feelings of isolation and shame and break the cycle of financial burden and stress. The following comment by one of the Fellows best encapsulates the program’s underlying philosophy: “how you act in this class is how you are showing up in life. Be attentive, be focused, be aware and be vibrant.”