Providing an escape from financial quagmire
Catholic Charities helps people pay off debts and stay out of bankruptcy
Seventh in a series on Bishop's Appeal
By Linda DeVries
IN BALANCE: Beth Snyder, Catholic Charities' budget counselor in Manitowoc, helps people get their financial house back in shape. (Dick Meyers photo)
Sharon never dreamed she would need help with her finances. She worked for more than 25 years for the Mirro Corp. in Manitowoc. When its manufacturing plant closed last September, Sharon and several hundred fellow employees lost their jobs.
"I guess I should have planned for something like this," said Sharon, "but I thought I'd always be working there."
At almost 50, Sharon (her name was changed for this story) began facing the realities of unemployment. Over the next few months she used up her savings. In February, she turned to Mirro's Employee Assistance Program, only to discover that their contract had expired. They referred her to Catholic Charities for free budget counseling.
"I called Catholic Charities and set up a meeting," Sharon said. "Beth [Snyder] helped me set up a budget and figure out how to pay my COBRA insurance. Then she developed a debt management plan for me."
Like many others, Sharon has given up her apartment. She will live with her sister and brother-in-law until she finds a new job.
"Manitowoc has really suffered from Mirro's closing," said Beth Snyder, Catholic Charities' financial counselor in Manitowoc. "We're seeing a disturbing trend as manufacturing is leaving the area and the country. Layoffs are increasing, and people can't sustain their debt. Like Sharon, they've depleted their savings and are living solely off their unemployment checks. I just heard that the unemployment rate here is 10.9%.
"For the first time in their lives, these people need to ask for assistance," Snyder said. "They're faced with deciding whether to sell their homes or vehicles and having to use food pantries. It's really hard."
What: Bishop's Appeal, the Green Bay Diocese's annual fund-raiser to support diocesan programs and services offered to parishes and individuals.
Where: All parishes in the diocese.
When: Right now.
How: Making a cash, check, credit card (MasterCard, Visa and Discover) or pledge donation. Materials have been sent to homes and also are available through parishes. Some employers offer matching gift programs, for which Catholic Charities may qualify, since
it serves the general public; additional information is available through Human Resources departments.
Theme: Offering a Helping Hand.
Target: $4.8 million.
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As unemployment rates rise, Catholic Charities counselors see more clients. Their confidential services are available to individuals or families regardless of faith. Many clients are referred by their bank or church or respond to a notice in a local newspaper.
Catholic Charities' financial services include three general categories:
One-on-One Budget Counseling -- "We meet with our clients on or just before their payday to develop a spending plan for that paycheck," Snyder said. "They leave our office with a copy of that spending plan, then at the next meeting we review it and make the next one. We continue to meet as long as they need our services. Budget counseling meets a twofold purpose: (1) there's no longer stress or uncertainty of what to pay when, and (2) there's accountability when we review their previous plan."
Budget counseling is free and most clients come to the Catholic Charities office. Snyder visits elderly and disabled clients in their homes as needed.
Debt Management Services -- Catholic Charities works with clients and creditors to repay debt. The agency has a Service Adjustment License from the Wisconsin Dept. of Financial Institutions, which allows them to negotiate lower payments and design a workable plan. There is a one-time $25 set-up fee and a $10 monthly service charge. "Our client makes one payment to us, and we disburse that amount to their creditors," Snyder said.
Education/Prevention Services -- Catholic Charities offers workshops such as "Mastering the Money Maze," "Credit When Credit Is Due," "Rent Smart," "Money Smart," and "Get Checking." Some are free, and others require a $10 fee. Financial counselors also give in-service seminars to community organizations and specialized presentations like "Getting Ready for Holiday Spending." A new program offers Boy Scouts the opportunity to earn a financial management badge.
A community resource
Bobbie Lison, Catholic Charities budget counselor supervisor in the Green Bay office, said, "We try to stay active and connected in our communities so we can better serve our
In Green Bay, they have outreach sites in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and St. Vincent de Paul. They have just begun offering financial help in Marinette twice a month,
and a counselor is available at the Appleton office by appointment.
Nearing $3 million
Bishop's Appeal 2004 had received gifts of $2,976,153 as of March 16. The 26,483 donors have given an average gift of $112.38. The target is $4.8 million.
"It's important to remember that not all individuals come in for debt counseling," Lison emphasized. "Some are facing a life change, like divorce or retirement, and just need some
financial advice about what's ahead."
The Bishops' Appeal provides the largest source of financial support for Catholic Charities. Additional funding comes from United Way.
"We're in the process of building a bigger volunteer base, especially for helping the elderly, who often just need someone to write out their checks for them," Lison said. "We're also working with Hispanic Outreach on a Hispanic Financial Literacy Program to train Hispanics in budget counseling. Our paperwork is available in Spanish."
"We want people who may be feeling hopeless about their financial situation," Lison said, "to know that they are not alone and they can get the tools they need to manage their money
successfully. Nobody needs to feel ashamed to call us. This really can make a difference in someone's life."