On road back to financial recovery, thanks to Catholic Charities

Assisting people with financial struggles is one role Catholic Charities plays

ALLOUEZ — Ten years ago, Stuart McCallum lost everything. He served as the caretaker for his mother. When she died on April 6, 2009, he not only lost her, but also his apartment. McCallum somehow made his way to the New Community Shelter in Green Bay.

“I don’t even know how I got there,” said McCallum, a Michigan native who grew up in Florida. “It was really a blank after they took my mom away. I ended up going to Brown County Mental Health.

Bobbie Lison, left, Financial Health Services operations manager for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, meets with Stuart McCallum on Aug. 5 to discuss McCallum’s financial progress. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I really don’t remember how I ended up there (NEW Community Shelter) with my backpack and a small amount of clothes,” he added. “I got really depressed.”

In 2012, while a resident of the Transitional Living Program of the New Community Shelter, McCallum made an appointment with Financial Health Services of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. A case worker at the shelter had helped him receive Social Security disability benefits, but he struggled financially.

“I was going through money like it was the last day I was living,” said McCallum. “At first, I thought that you sit down with a budget counselor and you still control your money; you pay the bills.”

Arranging for a payee was in McCallum’s best interest. Bobbie Lison, operations manager for Financial Health Services, assists him in that role.

“It’s one of our services. A lot of people come to us because Social Security or somebody mandates that they have a payee,” explained Lison. “If they don’t have a payee then they can’t access their benefits. Social Security will hold them until they get a payee. Stuart isn’t mandated. He felt that he didn’t handle his money the right way.”

The loss of control is difficult for many clients who need payee services, she added.

“Imagine if somebody came in and said, ‘You can’t handle your finances anymore, so we are going to decide what gets paid and how it gets paid.’ In a way it’s like giving up driving a car,” said Lison.

Payee services in northeast Wisconsin are somewhat limited. Catholic Charities offers Financial Health Services at its Green Bay and Manitowoc offices.

“We do our payee program differently than most payee providers,” said Lison. “Most meet with someone once and they develop a budget. They may meet with them once a year or never again. We meet with them every month and they have to be actively involved in creating a spending plan.”

For example, if the client will need boots in the near future, that should be communicated to the payee.

“We try to get them to think about things and research the cost,” said Lison. “If it’s something small, they can use their spending check for that. For a pair of boots, we will put that on the next spending plan. Because we see them every month we really build those relationships and I think that’s what makes us more successful.”

In addition to budget counseling and payee services, Financial Health Service of Catholic Charities provides housing counseling, home buyer education and foreclosure prevention, Individual Development Accounts (IDA), bankruptcy services and student loan counseling. Student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt in numbers of clients, said Lison.

“Student loan debt is a dream crusher for a lot of people, especially young people,” she said. “They don’t see themselves as being able to buy a house, get married or start a family. A lot of them are moving home. The rise of for-profit colleges is contributing because they are massively expensive. They will max out all the federal student loans they can get and still do not have enough to cover tuition, so they get into private loans. You don’t have any protection with private loans.”

Much of McCallum’s debt was from medical bills. He suffered a heart attack in 2008 and had another one two years later. He shared that he also has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from his time in the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, a training base located in the Missouri Ozarks.

“I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs. I’m a demolition expert,” he said. “You may have heard about ‘(Fort) Lost-In-The-Woods Misery’ (nickname for the base). There is a hill lined with k-rails. It teaches the troops how to move up; how to cover each other as you are moving up. I lost six of my friends. We still have no idea how this happened. Someone put a live Claymore mine where we were going up. The only thing that saved me is that I stopped to bend down to tie my shoe. When I was taking care of my mom, I started having flashbacks.”

McCallum, 48, worked as a truck driver and private nurse. He started driving a car at age 12 because his aunt needed someone to take her to medical appointments. His father, who died in 2005, owned a trucking company, which was eventually moved to Canada. While trucking, McCallum didn’t worry about money.

“I basically had a hotel on wheels,” he said. “I had money to spend without too much worry. You go from $150,000 a year to $12,000, that’s a major life change. I still don’t need a lot. I owe it to Bobbie and the staff for helping me set my goals and teaching me more about the financial ways of the world. They helped relieve me of the stress. We make small goals and work our way up to be successful.”

McCallum has made significant financial progress over the past seven years. He rents an apartment and he purchased a vehicle a few years ago. He would like to buy a house.

“He is doing research,” said Lison. “As the payee we are taking away a lot so we try to empower them and give them a lot back. ‘You need to do the footwork to find out what you are going to need to buy the house.’”

McCallum has lived in Green Bay for 14 years. Family members have been in the area for 20 years. His mother moved to the city to follow his brother, whose girlfriend is from Green Bay. Despite the struggles in his life, McCallum maintains a positive outlook.

“God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle,” he said. “Sometimes that course of life crosses with the path of other people. You help them out and they help you out. I think that’s the way life should be. I don’t look down on people. I treat them the way I want to be treated; that’s all.”

For more information about Financial Health Services at Catholic Charities, visit newcatholiccharities.org/personalfinance.