By Taylor Banaszewski
This summer I worked at Foundation Communities, a non-profit in Austin, Texas where I promoted financial stability by working in their financial coaching office. Foundation Communities began in 1990 in order to provide affordable housing. It currently has 19 housing communities (and is growing) throughout Austin and North Texas. Foundation Communities provides many other services such as tax preparation, health insurance enrollment, and college scholarship mentoring, in addition to housing and financial coaching. These services are open to any low-income person and not just the people who live in their housing communities. Foundation Communities helped me better understand the importance of providing low-income families with well-rounded support that gives them access to resources that enable them not just to survive, but thrive. My ideas have been reaffirmed that people from low-income backgrounds want to be help themselves towards financial stability and with access to the resources Foundation Communities provides they become more confident in pursuing their financial goals. I have learned that feeling supported goes a long way psychologically for clients who have felt isolated by the financial system. Knowing that somebody else is rooting for their success and believes that they can achieve financial stability is uplifting and often provides clients with the motivation to drive towards their goals.
One of my projects this summer was to collect client stories and transcribe their experience with Foundation Communities’ financial coaching program. Through interviewing clients, I gained a deeper understanding of how financial coaching has impacted their lives. Every client I interacted with was making strides toward furthering their financial security. Finances are confusing, and even as somebody who studies economics in college, I am often still confused about making the best financial decisions for myself. Through working in Foundation Communities financial coaching office I learned that people will work hard to better their situations. Many of the clients attribute their financial stability to Foundation Communities’ resources, but it is easy to see that the clients do the difficult work of keeping their budgets and cutting their spending through their own diligence. It is wonderful that organizations like Foundation Communities exist because they present clients with support for housing, healthcare, tax prep, college access, and financial stability. Clients must do the hard work themselves, but advice and encouragement empower clients to be in control of their financial future.
While working with Foundation Communities, I updated their community resource guide. I realized the amount of support within Austin and updated four pages of documentation regarding how clients can receive rent and utility assistance. Without easy access to the data about available resources in Austin, the task of accessing these resources can be overwhelming. This guide exemplifies the kind of advice and motivating help families need. They need to know where to go and what resources provide the best option. I learned about the need to make resources easily accessible. In financial coaching, clients can go through this resource guide with a coach and the process for attaining financial stability becomes more manageable. Support is available, but taking advantage of it is not always easy. Part of offering good advice requires listening to what the community needs and what will benefit families. Through my experience I saw that people living in difficult financial situations know much better what resources would help them thrive than people viewing the situation from the outside. I had to learn to listen, a key for knowing what people in different circumstances need that differs from my own needs.
This internship confirmed and expanded on by belief that communities should provide people with opportunities to help themselves financially. I want to be part of the solution to help people achieve financial success, and the experience with Foundation Communities has offered a deeper understanding of what is needed and has engendered my passion to help others by both direct support and advocacy. We need to examine more critically why so many Americans struggle financially when they are willing to work to advance their financial goals. We need to know more about the best way to get people on their feet. Most Americans are not financially insecure because they are careless with their money, but because the system is not always supportive and they do not know where to turn for what they need. Some turn to institutions like Payday Lenders that are not looking out for their customers’ best interest. People need better knowledge of the support and resources available to enable them to thrive. Foundation Communities offers a good model to help meet these needs, and it continues to evolve and cater to clients in ways that betters suit them. The government needs to further support organizations like Foundation Communities because the resources these organizations provide are helpful in bettering the economic wellbeing of individuals and ultimately improving the economic wellbeing of the nation. Government support will help these organizations get the funding they need to reach more people. More organizations like Foundation Communities will expand financial stability for those who can and want to attain it and the wellbeing it can promote.