Catholic Charities program helps single mom climb out of severe debt

By | February 7, 2013

“My credit was extremely horrible and I pushed away or betrayed everyone that cared about me,” wrote Egge in a letter describing her Catholic Charities experience. “As time progressed, I continued to feel like a loser and failure. When I joined this program … my life started to turn because of the positive people and the blessing from God.”

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Bobbie Lison, left, operations manager for the Financial Health Program of Catholic Charities, meets with Amanda Egge during a recent budget counseling session. Egge, a single mother, came to Lison in 2010 for help in managing a budget. The Financial Health Program is supported by the Bishop’s Appeal. (Josh Diedrich | For The Compass)

Egge was ready for change in her life, which isn’t the case with all clients, said Lison.

“You have to develop patience because you are asking people to change behaviors and you know what will happen if they do that, if they just listen to you, but that doesn’t always happen,” she said. “It’s a learning process.”

Despite the physical and emotional abuse suffered by Egge, she stayed focused.

“She is a very strong person,” said Lison. “To raise three kids as a single parent, to work full-time and then for her to build a house and put in all those hours (Habitat for Humanity) is a credit to her. She gained some self-confidence.”

“What really saved me was a wonderful, priceless opportunity to seek budget counseling from Bobbie,” noted Egge. “Because of Bobbie’s patient, kind, useful advice and counseling, I was able to pay off $16,000 of debt. Bobbie taught me how to budget, control and to spend my money wisely.”

The Financial Health Program, supported by Bishop’s Appeal funds designated to Catholic Charities, does not provide monetary assistance to clients. Budget counselors offer tools, skills and resources to help people with their financial problems.Ba_2013_Logo_1.jpgweb2

“We also direct people to community resources that are available because a lot of times, they don’t know,” said Lison. “I just had a client who didn’t realize that energy assistance was out there. It was a real need for her. She is on a fixed income so we signed her up for the outreach day. We don’t give anyone any money.”

While rewards for Lison are in the success stories of people who overcame their debt, frustrations arise from inequities in the system and when people fall victim to others.

“Some things shouldn’t be happening,” said Lison. “Child support is an example. Somebody is supposed to receive child support and it doesn’t come. Why is there nothing in place so people can get child support? For a lot of people, if they got child support, their lives wouldn’t be wonderful, but they could make it.

“Sometimes you see the bad side of people in our community,” she added. “They have no sense of morality or ethics when they totally rip someone off.”

Lison has learned not to second-guess herself in situations where clients don’t return after one or two meetings.

“I try to think of it as I planted a seed,” she said. “They weren’t ready at this time. The seed is there. They know that we are here and when they are ready, they will be back.”

The background of some of the clients would likely surprise many people. Catholic Charities’ budget counselors have worked with people who have six-figure incomes.

“Sometimes it is just that something inherently bad happened to a person such as a health crisis or the loss of a good-paying job,” said Lison. “Part of it, when you make that kind of money, is trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

The frequency of meetings with clients is determined by when income sources arrive. Egge, for example, is paid every other week, so she meets with Lison biweekly.

“She is no longer required to attend, but chooses to attend,” said Lison. “She is welcome to attend as long as she feels that it is beneficial.”

Taking the first step to seek budget counseling is hard for many people. Lison shares her personal experiences to help put newcomers at ease.

“Even as budget counselors, there are times that we blow it,” she said. “I tell my clients that. ‘Do you think that I’ve never blown it?’ They are not alone.

“There is always something we can do,” explained Lison. “Sometimes I look at the paperwork and think, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to tell these people to do.’ I’ve learned that what I get on paper isn’t necessarily the whole story.”

Lison nominated Egge for the Catholic Charities USA Consumer Advisory Board. If selected, she will take part in meetings in Washington, D.C., to determine Catholic Charities USA social policies. Board members also go through training to speak with legislators.

“Amanda has kind of made the full circle,” said Lison. “She’s now advocating on behalf of others who have similar situations.”

“If it wasn’t for Catholic Charities, I would still be feeling hopeless and broke with a great deal of bad credit,” said Egge. “I recommend (anyone needing assistance) to visit Bobbie at least monthly.”

“Amanda is a great example, but she’s just one of many,” said Lison. “I’ve been lucky. I have lots of clients who are really good examples. You need those rewards to get you through frustrating times.”

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