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'Money Mentors' program helping people cope with money management

Jeannette Garinger Beck, left, and Kathy Sweedler
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L. Brian Stauffer

Money Mentors is a new program offered by U. of I. Extension that provides trained mentors to people who want help managing their finances. Jeannette Garinger Beck, left, the business manager in electrical and computer engineering, volunteers with the program. Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator with Extension.

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12/16/2013 | Sharita Forrest, News Editor | 217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Years ago, when Jeannette Garinger Beck was a single parent raising four children, she knew the frustrations and stress of struggling to make ends meet. Although educational and professional achievement enabled Beck to put those days behind her, she’s sharing some of what she has learned about financial wellness by volunteering as a Money Mentor.

Sponsored by University of Illinois Extension, the Money Mentors program matches trained volunteers with individuals or families who want assistance managing their finances.

The program, which began this fall, has 22 mentors working with mentees in Champaign and Vermilion counties, according to Kathy Sweedler, a consumer economics educator in the Extension office in Champaign.

Money Mentors also is available in Ford and Iroquois counties and will expand to McLean County next spring.

 “A common misconception is that the Money Mentors program is limited to people who are low income or in crisis, but anyone can participate,” Sweedler said. “Money Mentors gives people an opportunity to get a fresh perspective on their financial situation and money-management challenges.”

The program is free and confidential. Mentees register online, providing basic financial information such as their employment, earnings and monthly expenses. Mentees also indicate the type of assistance that they’re seeking – whether they want help with budgeting, managing their credit, building savings or establishing financial goals, for example.

Mentees are then matched with volunteer mentors who have had 30 hours of training, which encompasses basic money management, financial coaching and learning about resources available in the community.

Mentees and their mentors decide when, where and how frequently to meet, although they are encouraged to meet in public places such as a library or the Extension offices, said Cayla Waters, the program coordinator of family and consumer sciences in the U. of I. Extension office in Danville.

“They can meet with the mentor once or 20 times – whatever helps people get back on track with their personal financial situation,” Waters said.

The Money Mentors program was developed at Ohio State University and has been adopted by Extension services in several other states.

This is the first time that the Money Mentors program has been offered in Illinois, and the U. of I. Extension’s program was closely modeled after a program in Florida, Waters said.

“They’ve had great success with helping people get back on their feet, learn how to budget their money, establish some goals and organize their finances,” Waters said. “We’re hoping that we will see similar success – if not more. Our goal for the first year is really to get the word out and let people know that it’s something that’s available. Given the financial climate right now, we do know that this is a definite need for many people in the community.”

Beck, who went through the mentor training this fall, recently began working with a family in Champaign County that is struggling with credit card debt that they accrued while the head of the household was ill and unemployed.

 After the initial mentoring session with Beck, the mentee decided to begin by organizing the household bills, tracking spending and looking for ways to economize.

“Nobody comes in with a magic answer or recipe and says, ‘If you follow this you’ll be fine,’ ” said Beck, who is the business manager in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “It’s very stressful and very emotional. It took a long time for them to get in the situation that they’re in, and it’s going to take a long time to get out. We just need to change some habits.

“It’s a brave, bold step to ask for a mentor and for help to try to fix it rather than take an ostrich, head-in-the-sand approach,” Beck said. “It’s life changing, and hopefully they will find themselves less stressed, more able to cope and in control instead of being a hostage to their finances.”

People who want to volunteer as Money Mentors can apply online through the U. of I. Extension website. Potential mentors, who are screened with background checks and interviews, are not expected to have a degree or experience working in finance – just a desire to help someone in need.

Mentors, who complete training modules at home and participate in group training at the Extension offices, pay a one-time $40 fee to cover the costs of the materials.

Mentors also participate in ongoing training and project planning sessions each month and must complete 12 hours of continuing education programs through Extension each year. They also must volunteer 50 hours annually in financial mentoring and community outreach projects.

For more information or to apply online for assistance or to become a mentor, visit the Money Mentors Web page.

Editor's note: To contact To contact Kathy Sweedler, call 217-333-7672; email sweedler@illinois.edu.
To contact Cayla Waters, call 217-442-8615; email cmwaters@illinois.edu.

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