Teaching students financial wellness

June 18, 2013

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “Area groups get $1.8 million in grants” — Mishandling a $5,000 financial aid refund check can land a student in steep debt and eventual poverty.

Since August 2012, the Financial Wellness Center of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay has been helping students develop spending plans to manage those large sums of money each semester.

“Financial aid is the largest piece of money they’ve ever seen,” said program financial coach Michael Brown.

Refund checks are intended to supplement a student’s income during a semester and should be used for housing, transportation, food and other basic needs, Brown said.

However, some students spend all the money within a month on cars, electronics, dining out and clothes, he said.

The program has been awarded a $50,000 grant to improve operations through the Basic Giving Needs Partnership, which announced Monday it will award almost $1.8 million in grants to more than 80 Fox Valley-area groups that are working to address assorted community issues from domestic violence to social development for children.

The partnership is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Venture Open Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation Inc., the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.

This year’s cumulative grant awards total of $1,772,473 is $344,544 more than last year’s figure of $1,427,929.

Sarah Schmidt, director of the U.S. Venture Open, an annual golf outing fundraiser, said last year’s event raised about $1.86 million to benefit the basic needs fund.

“Poverty is real in Northeastern Wisconsin,” Schmidt said to about 30 local leaders who attended the grant announcement Monday at the Student Center at NWTC, 2740 W. Mason St., Green Bay. “We know that working families with two working parents are having a more and more difficult time meeting their basic needs.”

Since beginning in 1986, the U.S. Venture Open has raised more than $16.2 million, including more than $10 million made for grants.

“These programs are teaching people how to have the independence that they really desire,” Schmidt said. “It’s critical that leaders in this community step up and really think about ways that they can impact this positively because these are problems that we can solve.”

Organizers hope to raise more than $2 million for the 28th annual U.S. Venture Open, which will be held Aug. 14 at several regional golf courses. Former Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver will be the event dinner’s featured guest.

The partnership donated almost $400,000 to 11 programs in the Green Bay area involving dozens of nonprofits, groups and public agencies. The new NWTC financial coaching program is in the second year of a three-year grant plan totaling $160,000. The funds will allow Brown to work full-time on campus instead of off-site a few miles away. So far, he said he has provided one-on-one counseling to 120 students, but has spoken to about 380 students overall through classroom appearances. The program is modeled after a pilot program at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. That project is now in its third year.

More than $715,000 in grants was awarded to organizations in the Fox Cities area and the partnership will give about $215,000 to the Oshkosh area. About $240,000 in grants was announced for national and regional projects, including a leadership program for 16 nonprofit executive directors.

One participant of that program is Robyn Davis, president of Freedom House Ministries, which operates a Green Bay shelter for homeless families in Brown County.

The program is helping Davis and other leaders study how other organizations have been successful in battling poverty and encouraging participants to find solutions to the unique problems facing their communities.

Freedom House has partnered with Integrated Community Solutions and the Crisis Center of Family Services on the Supporting Our Families Together Project, which was awarded the first installment of a three-year $135,000 grant to continue to provide motel vouchers and case management for homeless families with children.

“Our goal is to make sure no homeless families with children are on the street,” Davis said.

Like the families it serves, Freedom House is not expected to rely on grants forever, and Davis said the organization may develop a business or form a partnership that can generate revenue in the future to fund operations.

“We have an understanding of why it’s important to become self-sufficient, and then we can certainly pass that along to our families,” she said.

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