Tools for Financial Empowerment? Oakland County’s Got a Center For That
(Elizabeth Schanz, June 13, 2022)
Pontiac MI – In order to help the community achieve greater autonomy with their finances, the Financial Empowerment Center located in Pontiac, Michigan provides individuals, especially in Oakland County with free financial resources. This organization is run by the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office and helps people improve financial skills, obtain counseling for financial hardship, and provide individuals with monetary resources to achieve their goals.
The center’s multifaceted approach to finances allows members in the community to ask questions, pose problems, and seek solutions for a variety of situations. The Financial and Housing Coach for the Financial Empowerment Center and Deputy Treasurer, Reda Nafso emphasized that financial hardship can be emotionally draining and reaching out can be the first step to financial success.
“We want [individuals] to be financially educated. So we go into debt management, so we go into budgeting, we go into so many elements of the financial piece,” said Nafso, “We want them to take that along with them so they understand moving forward how to better deal with their finances.”
The organization takes a “hands-on” approach with both tackling the problems that individuals are seeking help for and finding both internal and external solutions. Some programs that the Financial Empowerment Center offers are business loans and grants and one-on-one financial planning that can help with budgeting, credit repair, and home mortgage assistance. The center helps to refer people to additional outside support that can help with additional needs such as non-profits and will check in on individuals to make sure that they are getting those resources.
The center stated that they have helped a variety of people: senior citizens who lack transportation by filling out necessary financial paperwork and mailing it to them personally, people dealing with finances after the loss of a loved one, and even a veteran facing homelessness.
The veteran struggled to pay for the hotel he was staying at in addition to the disabled child he cared for. He was connected with the Financial Empowerment Center and the center worked to help him through his situation. The Financial Empowerment Center helped to connect the individual to non-profit organizations such as Jewish Family Services and Kids Empowered On the Move run by Kimber Bishop-Yanke who were able to help him obtain permanent housing for him and his family.
While each financial case that the Financial Empowerment Center has is unique, the center maintains the common goal to provide the appropriate resources for people to meet their goals.
For instance, within the center, there is a program called Returning Citizens Entrepreneur Training Center which works to help people who have served felony sentences and are interested in starting businesses within the community. Often it is very difficult for individuals to adjust when returning to society and they typically struggle to find jobs or obtain resources to make their goals happen.
This goal to serve all individuals in public is a priority of financial empowerment. Robert Wittenberg, the Oakland County treasurer emphasized that the center acts to assist those in the community through helping overcome these obstacles.
“These are people who paid their debt to society and we want to make sure that they are able to be contributing members of society,” said Wittenberg, “We want to do all that we can, same thing as everyone else, but they probably have one more hurdle to jump through.”
Additionally, the Financial Empowerment Center works to connect individuals to other programs external programs that they may not have known about before such as the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund (MIHAF). This opportunity is through the state and allows for certain people who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to repay for delinquent taxes, mortgage, and utilities.
Furthermore, the center wants to not only provide these resources by to truly empower individuals with the knowledge of what financial literacy looks like and can be. Nafso emphasized the long term impact that “financial coaching” can have on individuals.
Nafso said, “It’s only fair to educate people on the financial piece of things. Growing up, a lot of times your parents don’t teach you these things, a lot of times the schools don’t teach you about your finances, I think that’s where we lack a lot of our financial education.”
While the Financial Empowerment Center continues to try to fill these gaps in the public’s financial knowledge, both Wittenberg and Nafso encourage people to reach out to the center. The center hopes to address people where they are within their finances and encourage them to thrive into the future through encouragement, resources, and education.
To learn more about the Financial Empowerment Center and how to get in touch with the organization search https://www.oakgov.com/treasurer/financial-empowerment-center/Pages/default.aspx