Paying bills. Balancing a checkbook. Credit scores.
Navigating the waters of personal finance can be overwhelming for many people. For women who relied on a spouse’s monetary management—and then experience divorce or spousal death—the lack of practical experience and knowledge can be financially devastating as well.
“Understanding and controlling finances is a crucial step in creating stability in their lives,” said Sharon Belloff, credit builder advisor with Jewish Vocational Service’s Chicago’s Duman Entrepreneurship Center and director of the Jewish Teens and Women Credit, Asset Building and Savings Help (CASH) program. “The program seeks to empower women and teens with the ability to make their own financial decisions.”
The CASH program provides free educational workshops and individual counseling for women and teen girls in the Jewish community. In its second year, the program is funded with a three-year, $60,000 grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF).
This was the first multi-year commitment by JWF. “We chose the CASH program because of its multi-faceted approach,” said Dana Hirt, JWF chair. The program combines a topical workshop with private financial counseling. Workshops and counseling sessions are offered free of charge to Jewish schools, synagogues, Hillels and other Jewish communal organizations that involve women.
Workshop topics include “Credit Building and Repair,” “Money Matters,” “Taking the Fear Out of Taxes,” “Protecting Your Identity,” “Avoiding Scams and Fraud,” “Creating Wealth, Important Papers,” and “Navigating the Student Loan Maze.”
Programs can be modified to suit a specific audience, Belloff said.
She recently presented “Know the Score—An Evening Dedicated to Financial Fitness” to the North Shore National Council of Jewish Women. The workshop focused on credit scores—what they mean, how they are calculated, and what people can do to improve their individual scores.
Gerri Kahnweiler, JWF grants chair, attended the workshop. As an MBA, she understands money management and budgeting; however, “I didn’t understand that establishing my own credit is meaningful.” The session provided a general overview, she said, but the real work is on an individual level.
“JVS urges women to sign up for a free personal consultation. That’s where they can address a person’s specific needs,” Kahnweiler said. “They can help you check your credit score privately and help you set up a plan to improve it.”
Belloff said, “Our services are offered one on one so that we can address each person’s questions in as much time as it takes for them to understand what’s going on.”
Jewish teen girls have benefited from the program as well. Belloff recently discussed credit basics with 19 students at Lubavitch Girls High School. Earlier last fall, she shared information about student loans and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the “FAFSA.”
“We want teens to be knowledgeable about student loans and matters of money because it empowers them to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives,” Belloff said. “A student also needs to understand what her parents have to do to pay for college if she is not paying for it herself.”
To date, the program has reached women ranging from teenagers to seniors who are well into their 70s.
“It’s exciting to be able to impact your community this way,” Hirt said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for JWF to effect change.”
“People don’t have to be in a crisis to learn financial literacy,” Belloff said. “They can learn about it in advance so if something happens, they know where to turn. There is someone here to help them,” she said. “We all care.”
To set up a free workshop on credit counseling or to make an appointment for a free financial counseling session through the CASH program, call Sharon Belloff at (773) 516-5533.
For information on the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, call (312) 357-4850 or email WomensFndn@juf.org.
Jewish Women's Foundation of Chicago is an independent project of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.