A path opens through financial coaching

Arlene McGuinness was referred to Catholic Charities after a shattering chain of events, beginning with a lupus diagnosis. At the same time she was caring for family members experiencing their own crises. Then, within a year, she would lose her primary source of income and be in danger of losing everything.

Suffering from severe depression, McGuiness called Catholic Charities for help with her looming financial crisis. The agency offers financial coaching through a partnership with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Armed Forces Services Corporation. McGuinness was referred to financial coach Elishia Townsend, who, as McGuiness described, “helped me find a path forward. [Townsend] opened up the vision I couldn’t see. And while she would encourage me to try this or that, the actual thoughts really came from me.”

According to McGuinness and Townsend, financial coaching is different than traditional counseling or financial education. It’s about helping individuals identify for themselves what their values are and then to set goals that align with those values.

“Every week, at the end of our session, she would sum up things that I said and would throw the questions back at me: ‘What do you think you’re going to do this week with a certain thing we talked about?’ It put me in a position where I had to think, and then also be accountable to her. Elishia was pushing me through my fears toward my goal of creating a source of income,” McGuinness said.

While McGuinness’ health prevented her from working a typical job, she began to understand through her meetings with Townsend how her skills and interests could be turned into potential income. She found the courage to begin selling her hand-crocheted baby blankets at a nearby baby boutique, and she has also started working on a book. Most importantly, McGuinness has left her crippling depression behind and broadened her mind to consider other possibilities for securing her financial future.

Arlene McGuinness is just one of many clients who are assisted through Catholic Charities’ Financial Coaching programs, which fall under the umbrella of the agency’s Asset Development Program. The program began in 2008 when Andy Zmuda, Ph.D., Catholic Charities’ Asset Development director, met with staff to address a recurring issue: clients returning for assistance after experiencing the same financial problems repeatedly. As a result, the Asset Development program was launched and has since expanded into a series of programs, including financial coaching, literacy and employment training, matched savings programs, free tax-filing programs, and more.

“We believe that any long-term solution to poverty must include financial education,” said Zmuda. “It all starts with a vision, some good financial guidance, an action plan and a driving desire to succeed.”