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Helping people face battle of the budget



Social workers put a lot of effort into finding jobs for people who receive government assistance.

But they know clients need not just jobs, but the financial skills necessary to successfully budget their money.

Now, a new program launched by Fredericksburg social workers will help people shifting from government benefits to work make the most of their paychecks.

Thursday night, the Fredericksburg Department of Social Services hosted a dinner to introduce its newest program, the Academy for Financial Empowerment.

The nine-week financial literacy class is for current and past participants of the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare, a program that helps families receiving cash assistance find and keep jobs.

The Academy for Financial Empowerment matches each student with a community mentor to help them through the process of balancing a checkbook, budgeting, fixing credit scores and saving for a car or house.

“We’re taking individuals and giving them a leg up, giving them an opportunity to be self-sufficient and the opportunity to do amazing things,” said Nicole Hawkins–Normand, a financial analyst and the course instructor.

Three city social workers first dreamed of the academy more than a year ago, said Pat Milton, a social worker for the Fredericksburg Department of Social Services.

They were driving back from a seminar on strengthening families—a seminar that focused heavily on financial literacy. Christen Gallik, director of the city’s DSS, wanted to create a program to teach budgeting to the VIEW participants.

Later, Gallik and Milton met Hawkins–Normand, who serves on the board of Thrive, The Healing Center. Hawkins–Normand taught finance classes at Thrive and also at Empowerhouse, which deals with domestic violence.

The financial analyst and Spotsylvania County resident was thrilled to take the budgeting course to social services. The nine-week class was developed by the FDIC, she said. It will cover the basics of banking through saving for a mortgage.

The courses will be taught Thursday evenings at the Fredericksburg campus of Germanna Community College. Mentors are supposed to connect with their students at least once a week.

The program draws on partnerships with many community resources, including the Rappahannock United Way, Goodwill Industries, the Virginia Cooperative Extension and a few area banks.

“It’s so exciting,” Hawkins–Normand said. “It shows what we can accomplish when we all pool our resources.”

The city social workers hope to expand the academy if it’s successful.

“We’ve been really excited about this program,” Milton said. “We know there are good things to come.”

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973