United Way effort aims to help families boost financial knowledge

Posted: Aug. 29, 2013 7:27 pm Updated: Sep. 19, 2013 8:15 pm

  Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The United Way of Adams County launched an effort Thursday to help strengthen the financial skills of local families.

The agency unveiled plans for a "financial stability initiative," a four-pronged effort aimed at helping Adams County residents become more financially self-sufficient.

The four areas are:

º Helping families fill out their income tax forms.

º Providing financial coaching to those who need it.

º Expanding a Junior Achievement financial literacy program in the Quincy School District.

º Starting a college- and career-readiness program for high school juniors and seniors.

The United Way is already offering the first two components. For the past seven years the agency has sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to help area residents with household incomes below $50,000 fill out and file their income taxes. Volunteers helped 718 clients file out more than 1,500 income tax forms last year, thereby saving those people $126,000 in tax-preparation fees, according to Emily Robbearts, a community resources associate for the United Way.

During this last tax season, Robbearts said, the agency started offering free financial coaching to see if there was a demand for the service. Interest was strong, so the agency is expanding that service to make it available to all county residents, regardless of income level.

The United Way is also launching a wide-scale Junior Achievement financial literacy program in Quincy's public schools this fall. This effort will begin in October or November in all seven of the district's K-3 elementary schools and in grades four and seven. It will be expanded to other grades and all public and parochial schools in Adams County over the next three years.

The United Way also plans to partner with the Workforce Investment Board of Western Illinois (WIBWI) to introduce a college- and career-readiness program for juniors and seniors in Adams County high schools. This program, already being implemented in Pike County schools, provides mentoring from volunteers to encourage students to take steps in high school to be successful, whether they choose to attend college or enter the workforce.

Robbearts said a start date for the college- and career-readiness program has not been determined.

All four of these finance-related components are geared to help Adams County adults and youths be more successful and independent.

A special United Way task force was created two years ago to look for ways the agency could have a bigger impact in helping people. The task force's efforts resulted in a plan -- announced in July -- that calls for focusing help on three distinct areas: financial stability, education and health.

The United Way is leading the financial stability initiative, which was rolled out Thursday. Robbearts said the Regional Office of Education is leading the education initiative while the Adams County Health Department is leading the health initiative, both of which will be rolled out later this year.

Each initiative is going to require community support in the form of donations, volunteers and advocacy.

The financial stability initiative alone will require about 200 more volunteers, according to Terry Myers, lead volunteer for the United Way. Many of those will be trained to deliver the Junior Achievement curriculum in schools with the goal of arming children with basic knowledge about money management and how the economy works.

Myers said 700 children now receive training through J.A. programs offered in a handful of local schools. By the time the curriculum is adopted countywide, he said, "11,600 students will be impacted."

Brad Essington, a loan officer with Farmers Bank of Liberty and co-chairman of the United Way's income leadership delegation, said the curriculum "will give the children in our community a leg up on being financially independent."

Blanche Shoup, WIBWI director, touted the benefits of helping students start planning early for their careers. She said local companies often need workers with special skills that can be honed through educational programs.

"We have a wealth of talent sitting in our schools," Shoup said. However, many of the region's young people end up leaving the community to seek jobs elsewhere.

"We want them to come back," she said.