A Life Brought Full Circle - United Way of Greater St. Louis

A Life Brought Full Circle

Imagine living in a foreign country knowing only a few words in the native language, while trying to find a place to live, employment, and steady income. For some families in the ASSET Program, this is reality. However, with help from volunteer financial coaches like Lucy Reyna, the process has become much more manageable.

Lucy personally understands the challenges these families encounter. Originally from a small town 30 minutes from the Mexican border, Lucy faced many barriers to success in her impoverished community. But, after enrolling in Head Start, she learned English and was motivated to continue surpassing expectations.

“I was raised in an underserved and predominantly Spanish-speaking community in South Texas where opportunities for achievement were scarce. As a toddler I attended Head Start for a couple of years and learned English through the experience. Head Start helped guide me to seek a higher education and achieve success.”

Lucy’s experience growing up inspired her to give back to her community. When she first heard about United Way’s volunteer financial coaching program, she knew it was a perfect fit for her love of working with people and past experience with Head Start. The volunteer financial coaching program is a part of the ASSET Program, a financial capability, matched savings program for Head Start families. Program participants complete financial education and credit counseling before opening up a savings account and committing to saving on a monthly basis. After signing up, Lucy was assigned to three Spanish-speaking participants and helped them navigate unexpected barriers related to their financial goals.

“There were times when I felt frustrated with the barriers my mentees faced, and it was essential to be optimistic for their sake. I knew that they respected and trusted me, and it was important that they believed we would work together for a solution.”

Within only a few meetings, Lucy noticed her participants better grasping the impact of saving a few dollars a week and how a commitment to their savings goals would impact their lives in other ways.

“My mentees began learning the importance of setting goals and achieving them. Sometimes it was difficult for participants to see the long-range goal or the bigger picture, especially when they only could save $10 per week. But, the program helped them realize that baby steps can build something bigger!”

During the program, Lucy met with each mentee one to two times a month and served as their cheerleader, confidante and budget advisor. Her counseling helped them tackle credit card debts and pay off utility bills. At each meeting, Lucy shared some of her own life experiences and encouraged each participant to share not only what financial challenges they were facing but positive updates as well. Through her help, mentees learned to stay on track with their savings and feel proud of what they were accomplishing.

Despite the demands Lucy faced as a financial coach, she said that the experience was incredibly fulfilling and helped her life come full circle.

“I really feel in my heart that Headstart helped guide me to seek a higher education and achieve success. Participating in the financial coaching program gave me the opportunity to give back to those who had given me so much.”

Lucy Reyna was one of 50 financial coaches who volunteered to help Head Start families in 2015. We’re currently looking for financial coaches for our 2016 program. If you’re interested in helping a family, please register for this unique opportunity.

Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is the content marketing manager in the Marketing and Communications Department of United Way of Greater St. Louis.

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