The daunting task facing people in financial distress is figuring out how to make ends meet.
For the past three months, the ministry — which focuses on helping people who are in the throes of all manners of crisis — and the university has held classes in financial literacy.
The principle here is likened to the old "teach a man to fish" Chinese proverb, said Cristy Harris, the ministry’s executive director.
“It’s to help folks get back on their feet," she said.
The program, which is open to anyone, is three hours conducted over two consecutive weeks. In the first part, participants take the equivalent of “Personal Finances 101.” They learn about the principles of budgeting, saving money and debt.
“Without this people can’t have a clear understanding of how they can wind up in a financial hole quite quickly,” said Daniel Condon, an economics professor at Dominican and the founding director center of the US Bank Center for Economic Education, who leads the first session. “There’s an advantage to being a saver and a disadvantage to being a borrower.”
They leave with homework.
Between the sessions, participants have to make out a monthly budget, which includes rent, transportation, food, utilities and other major expenses. They also must keep a daily spending chart of how they spend their money that week: from magazines, meals out, even down to the pack of gum they bought at a neighborhood convenience store.
During the second session “students” work one-on-one with a Ministries volunteer, Condon, or a Dominican grad student to help people see how they can make their money go further.
“They can start setting long-term savings goals and planning for the future,” Harris said. “It’s all about the choices that people make.”
The ministry had talked for a while about finding a way to start this kind of class, but hadn’t found the way to make it happen. Michelle Alioto, a Dominican grad student and a student of Condon's who also volunteers with the ministry, talked about her idea with Harris, Condon said, and the effort took off from there.
Phil Ruggio, whose insurance business went south after the economy tanked, is looking for another job. But it’s been challenging for someone in his late 50s. He’s found some ways of keeping his spending under control, like finding a free phone. He’s gone on safety-net General Assistance and has received food stamps. He’s also had to move in with his mother, who lives in River Forest, and is thankful to have a place to stay.
“Still I never thought it would be like this,” he said. “Learning how to budget will help once I get back on my feet.”
Kelly Rodgers, who sustained nerve damage in an accident and is disabled, is struggling to stay here in Oak Park, where she relies on nearby public transportation uses the library and visits her doctors.
She’s very frugal and is still trying very hard to make ends meet. She said the budgeting assistance she's gotten from the class is pertinent and instructive.
“They communicate it all so very well. I’ve learned that if I do anything with regularity there’s a price to it. It will help me decide what to do with the money I have. I don’t think many people take that approach,” she said.
Enrollment has been steadily climbing during the three months classes have been in session. The word’s been getting out by traditional means including word of mouth and flyers.
For more information call the Walk-In Ministry office at (708) 386-1946. A date for the next class has not yet been set, Condon said.