In a Financial House Party, you meet with 3 other community members who speak the same language as you and the Community Ambassador who speaks your language as well. You meet together as a group four times. As a group, you take turns hosting the meeting at your house. When it’s your turn to host, you choose the topic to discuss that night. Topics have included bank accounts and ATM cards, building credit, budgeting, developing businesses, buying cars, buying homes, and more.
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Financial Empowerment for New Americans
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In 2018, we launched our Financial Empowerment for New Americans Project. We wanted to help New Americans gain accurate information about handling finances in the United States and access that information from people they trust. Through many discussions with community members and community partners, we developed an innovative program: Financial House Parties. Financial House Parties involve a group of 4 - 5 New Americans who speak the same language. The participants take turns hosting dinners at their homes, where they are joined by a CVOEO Community Ambassador -- a community member who speaks their language and is trained and employed by CVOEO in financial education. The host of that week's house party chooses the topic to discuss that night. Topics chosen have included banking in the U.S., building credit scores and budgeting, microbusiness development, buying a house or car, and more.
Our first financial house parties were in the Somali community. By recruiting and training a cohort of "community ambassadors" interested in serving as a financial coach and/or class facilitator, we relinquished control and empowered women to be leaders in their community. Over time, we have expanded to offer Financial House Parties for those who speak Arabic, French, MaayMaay, Nepali, Somali, Spanish, and Swahili.
“..I learned new things and I earned money towards my savings goal for hosting at my apartment. My friends were able to start saving, too. Three parties later I am closer to buying my car and I was invited to become a community ambassador. Less than 10 years ago I was learning all of this for the first time. Now I am the one teaching other Somali women. People tell their friends, “Oh you have a money question? Ask Ashikiro.”
Our Community Ambassadors also provide interpretation for 1:1 financial coaching appointments and provide support for traditional credit and budgeting classes as well. Starting this winter, we will be developing culturally responsive classes that go into greater depth on saving, home ownership as an asset, and starting and sustaining small businesses. We look forward to the work to come in helping New Americans achieve true financial security!
Reflections: Listening and Learning Together at the First Financial House Parties
On a weekend day during the winter of 2018, I entered a small sitting room with a medium TV screen in one corner, and a loveseat by the wall facing the TV. The floor of the room was covered by a large, soft, colorful mat and there were a couple of inviting pillows thrown on the mat for sitting. I greeted and thanked the middle-aged New American client who had generously volunteered to host our first of a series of interpreted financial capability workshops in her home.
Few months prior to this day, the CVOEO Financial Futures Program started a unique activity: Financial House Parties, which involve rounds of informal meetings where I have the honor of entering participant's homes and enjoying their lovely company and generous hospitality. In groups of 4 to 6 participants, we discuss financial goals and challenges, as well as learn why and how to utilize available tools -- like starting to build credit -- to journey toward addressing those challenges and reaching those goals. Across cultures, financial goals often look similar: starting businesses, owning homes, increasing household income, and funding their children's education are common aspirations among participants of the Financial House Parties. At the end of the Financial House Party series, most participants chose to continue their learning, address challenges, and achieve financial goals by registering to take an additional financial capability workshop.
On that first day of financial capability workshops, participants arrived and started to settle in for the workshop. Some people sat in seats, but most were comfortable on the floor; some people facing me, and some people situated looking in another direction. Two participants were facing the wall and all I saw were their backs. I began the workshop with storytelling and brainstorming -- two methods I like to use to deliver activities. After the first five minutes, I felt like some members of the group were not interested and I wasn't optimistic that the session would be useful for them. But, we all stuck with it. I tried to explain the information I wanted to share, and some people started participating when I asked the group to share their thoughts. When it was time for Q and A, the discussion livened. A participant whose back I was looking at kicked off a conversation by asking very good questions related to the workshop subject matter, and eventually the engagement of the group increased. By the end of that session, I was feeling the opposite of my doubtfulness from the beginning.
While centered around the colorful mat in the sitting room, we discussed personal dreams related to financial planning and barriers to reaching them, ranging from using an ATM card, the legitimacy and necessity of bank accounts, to economic injustice in America. Additionally, it was amazing to notice how current events, such as mass shootings, suicide bombing incidents, religious holidays, and happy or sad community occasions influenced our conversations.
I learned a lesson in that warm, welcoming sitting room. As I walked in, I held a handbook designed for native English speakers on financial capability with insights about how to manage your money, prepared with writing activities to get the discussion going with notebooks and handouts and printed pictures explaining how to use the ATM. As I walked out from the first series of House Parties, I reflected on how imperative it is to understand and design curricula for the way participants are most naturally compelled to engage in a discussion; written activities are not a good fit for a community of participants who do not use a written language. One participant told me one day, "When you distribute a paper we can't read, we try to be careful not to talk about something that might not be the subject of the discussion."
Equipped with my educational credentials and professional experiences, I had come prepared with specific ways of setting up our training or classroom, confident in what aids to use to deliver content and dynamic exercises to engage participants. In this project, however, I learned to ignore my assumptions of how the group will best learn, and to be open and able to learn alongside my clients just how far we can go in adapting methodology and sharing information in a variety of ways. This allowed for us all to take part in a learning opportunity that was responsive to cultural differences and embraced connection with and among participants of the workshop.
The question I’m left with is “how far can we go in surrendering the traditional norms in our educational planning and delivery methods when we work with New American clients who come from very different ecological backgrounds that affect their knowledge, skills, personality, and learning styles?” Ask questions of participants and listen to their answers; listen to their questions and be flexible to change the way you answer and deliver new information. And do it with respect and joy.
Former Program Manager,
Financial Empowerment for New Americans