Volunteers offer free personal finance classes through United Way

ADDISON COUNTY — Local professionals are volunteering to teach a new financial literacy class that promises to help individuals and couples learn how to manage their finances, recover from financial debt, or save for a large investment.
The class, called “Earn it, Keep it, Grow it,” or EKG, is offered by the United Way of Addison County through local businesses with at least six interested employees. It is a four-week course, with classes once a week. The course is free to participants thanks to the skilled volunteers and to grants, including one from the Funders Collaborative Fund and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Mark Nelson is one of the program’s chief volunteers, leading workshops as well as making himself available for one-on-one advising with program participants.
Nelson is a retired financial services senior executive for large financial institutions including JPMorgan Chase. Following his retirement last September, Nelson and his family left New Jersey to pursue a quieter life in Ripton.
As avid outdoorspeople, Nelson and his wife, Barbara, fell in love with the forests as well as the people and personality of Vermont. They made quick strides to become involved with the local community. Mark joined the Board for Addison County Habitat for Humanity and is a lifetime member of the Sierra Club. Barbara joined the board for the local United Way. Both work with Meals on Wheels and are on the Conservation Committee in Ripton.
“We do all kinds of volunteering,” Mark says, “we are always looking for opportunities to help.”
For Nelson, volunteering for the financial literacy program was another way that he could share his expertise and help others navigate the often confusing scope of personal finance.
“I became very interested in the program because it provides information that a lot of people don’t have access to or at least have never been encouraged to talk about and think about,” Nelson says.
Instead, many people end up with a confused understanding of where their money goes each month and each year.
“This is a great opportunity to help people understand how to better manage their finances and put together financial plans, use credit, and make improvements in their lives,” Nelson says, and it can help people move toward a more comfortable place not only in their financial lives but also in their personal lives.
“If you’re having problems with finances, it creates a huge amount of stress and affects relationships and all sorts of other things.”
Furthermore, Nelson knows perhaps more than most about the reels of marketing information that people receive about credit opportunities, as well as the risk associated with many of those offers.
“It is all too easy to get yourself in trouble with credit,” Nelson comments. “Everywhere you look people are encouraged to buy things on credit … It is not inherently a bad thing and we need credit for many routine purchases. But, if you’re not careful, it can really derail your financial goals.”
With more than 20 years of experience in risk management, Nelson works with program participants to help them gain control of their financial situations and give them tools to help manage their spending and saving patterns.
“I get enjoyment out of applying some of the experience I gained over many years to help people understand their finances and make improvements in their lives,” he says.
“I’ve always enjoyed working directly with people. (Volunteering with this class) gives me an opportunity to work one on one with people more than when I got in more senior positions in the business.”
With a free credit check included in the program, as well as an opportunity to review credit reports, the hope is that experts such as Nelson can help individuals understand what credit means, how to build good credit and how to repair poor credit.
United Way Executive Director Kate McGowan says the EKG class was designed to help folks who might not otherwise get helpful information on managing their finances.
“We know that many people don’t have access to this type of information since it has not, until recently, been part of school curriculum and that many families simply don’t talk about money issues,” McGowan says. With too many examples of poor financial stability and not enough examples or lessons in how to properly manage finances, it’s no wonder so many people find themselves overextended, she says.
This course is an effort to change that.
“We are trying to start a revolution where people know they are in charge of their finances, know how to do it and are excited to create pathways to serving their own financial goals,” McGowan says.
To learn more about the EKG class, call 2-1-1 or the United Way of Addison County at 388-7189.

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