Making Ends Meet
Overcoming County’s Low-income Cycle Tough But Do-able With Education & Grit
Every morning, rock-solid citizens who barely have enough pocket change to make it through the day wake up and go to work. Right here in Brunswick County, there are those who string multiple part-time jobs together, yet can scarcely afford today’s cost of living.
Brunswick Family Assistance Program Executive Director Stephanie Bowen put it this way: “The average one-bedroom rental here costs $800 a month. If you work eight hours, seven days a week, at the state’s $7.25 minimum hourly wage, more than half your month’s pay (after taxes) goes to rent alone. If you don’t know how to budget and manage your money to the penny, it can spell disaster for your entire family.”
But with just a few hours of free schooling offered by Brunswick Family Assistance (BFA), chances of paying all the bills and holding on to a few extra dollars are much improved.
BFA is a private, nonprofit organization in its 35th year of operation. It provides emergency-only assistance and educational and skills development programs for low-income residents in need. BFA partners with other groups locally in an effort to improve the lives of Brunswick County people in crisis who are willing to help themselves. Two of their courses are Financial Literacy, which started in 2014, and Job Skills Training, which began last year.
BFA Director of Operations & Outreach Charles Jackson is one of its six employees. He says the Financial Literacy course helps participants learn how to budget and manage money better. It includes checkbook balancing, payday loans, the advantages and disadvantages of credit and debit cards, how to develop a budget and how to avoid impulse spending. The course consists of six, 30-minute classes offered to West Brunswick High School students and will be offered around the county, open to the public, starting in 2020.
“The first classes we go over how they are spending their money,” Jackson says. “That cup of coffee in the convenience store over time could be the equivalent of gas or groceries.”
Bowen adds that when every dollar counts, you need to learn to save up for the things you want and not use money you need for day-to-day living. Jackson concurs: “So at the end of the first classes, we look at necessity versus things that are not necessary, and it brings to light where they might save money.”
Participants receive a tracking paper at the end of the class to take home and start using. “They go home and create a budget, which we review in the set of classes,” Jackson says.
Volunteers from local banks come in and assist them in presenting these skills. In the second class, they sit with each client and go over their budget and see if they have money left over or not; then they discuss what they can do next time if they fall short.
“This is the most important thing. It is their responsibility to take the knowledge and use it in real time,” Bowen says.
The two directors say they’ve learned something important from the classes. “One decision might have changed everything in a person’s life. And one decision can change everything again,” Bowen says. With that motto, BFA also offers a two-hour course on job-skills training.
Participants learn how to fill out a job application, build a resume, answer difficult questions about their past (such as incarceration) and how to dress for the interview. BFA partners with North Carolina Works (the employment office) and other local professionals to stage the class. Together they perform mock interviews, then go over what the participants stumbled on and did exceptionally well on and how to improve for their real interviews.
“We want to give them the tools,” Jackson says. “We know from experience they can do it. You have to make up your mind you want to change and have a different lifestyle. Some are so used to the struggle they don’t see a way out, but graduates tell us the classes truly help. There is a way out.”
Bowen notes that BFA is looking at additional elements they can add to the classes. “I’d like to see a module on how to build credit and steps to help people get out of rental situations and perhaps into their own homes,” she says.
She says they also need to help people see the consequences of certain decisions. For instance, someone with a larger family may opt to move into a mobile home to get more space. But those places can be poorly insulated, and the cost for electricity could be overwhelming. And some have to consider the seasonal nature of some of the jobs in this area.
So far, the classes have had 158 graduates, and BFA is considering how to branch out and share these great ideas with young adults in the schools.
“When I was growing up, I never learned about things like debt to income ratio, how a mortgage could be less expensive than renting and the myriad of things that could propel me out of a low-income environment and into a new life,” Bowen says.
BFA conducted a pilot class with students at West Brunswick High School a couple of years ago, and Bowen deems it highly successful. There is some consideration now about approaching county and school officials with the hope of offering the classes in all the high schools.
Do you need help or can you help?
Classes will be offered again in 2020. To learn more about Brunswick Family Assistance’s classes or programs, go to brunswickfamily.org or call (910) 754-4766.
Bankers and financial specialists who would be willing to receive training as co-facilitators for the two courses, can contact Jackson at the same number.