Summit Financial Wellness: Financial Education for Your Journey to the Top!
MOODY ON THE MARKET: https://www.moodyonthemarket.com/summit-financial-wellness-financial-education-for-your-journey-to-the-top/
Some financial institutions pray that their customers have a basic grounding in good financial basics. Some actually prey on their clientele with unconscionable fees and other charges. Then, there is Team Honor. At Honor Credit Union, they value their members so highly that they actually launched a nonprofit organization three years ago to provide them with a sound financial education designed to help guide smart choices when it comes to handling their own money.
In 2018, Honor Credit Union established an independent nonprofit organization called Summit Financial Wellness whose sole purpose is to provide financial education and coaching services to the entire community. Even better? You don’t even have to be a member of Honor to avail yourself of those services.
Barbara Sistrunk is the Executive Director of Summit Financial Wellness, a well-respected and multi-talented leader in the Benton Harbor community for more than 15-years. I recently sat down with Barbara to talk about the work her organization is doing and how it all got started. She tells me, “Summit Financial Wellness is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Honor Credit Union back in 2018. Honor already does great things in the community, and they took a step back and asked what can we do to really have an impact on people, a long-lasting impact, and they came up with this organization, which I’ve been involved with since 2019.”
Addressing the role of Summit Financial Wellness, Barbara says, “Our vision is to empower individuals with the skills and resources needed to achieve and maintain financial stability and wellness, and we do that by helping them access knowledge and offering tools and support to build assets. We want to inspire their financial confidence. Anyone is able to take advantage of our services but our target audience is the low-to-moderate-income families, primarily what’s referred to as the ‘ALICE’ population.” ALICE is the acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed individuals in the community. “This segment of our population is precariously positioned between poverty and working, yet struggling, to make ends meet. Forty percent of Berrien County residents are at this level – one paycheck away from a financial emergency or disaster.”
As you might expect, starting at the grassroots, ground level, or very basic levels of finance is often critical to the learning process. Barbara says, “I’ve been surprised to find there are many people who lack basic knowledge about savings, checking and other financial products and services that are available to them.”
“I thought the Summit Financial Wellness information from the classes in our Cohort was very helpful. I now realize how important it is to break down what you are spending your income on. I will use my knowledge gained by writing down my spending habits, fixed, variable and periodic. I am more aware of how I manage my money. -Antonique Adams
To help understand why somebody would go through life without something as basic as a checking account, Barbara explains, “Many people are what we call ‘unbanked or under-banked’ and a lot of that stems from their distrust of financial institutions. So part of what we’re doing while we’re educating people, is trying to help them feel comfortable in knowing that a financial institution, along with its education and resources, are simply tools that they’re going to use to help build their financial stability. We’re just trying to give people a foundational knowledge of personal finance and empower them with that information to make good choices in life.”
There can be a lot to cover in the financial realm, but Summit Financial Wellness is up to the task. Barbara notes, “We cover a myriad of topics and financial products in order to give people a good overview of all those things that encompass your personal finances.” Some of the topics they cover include money mindsets, budgeting, saving, borrowing, cash flow management, home ownership, and even goal setting. As Barbara says, “We talk about goal setting so that we can help people set not only financial goals, but personal goals as well.”
The resources provided by Summit Financial Wellness are available at any time. People don’t have to wait for a formalized classroom or virtual setting in order to get our information. Barbara comments, “We do provide one-on-one financial coaching where we take them through the entire process from setting their financial goals to helping them develop an action plan around those goals, and then we kind of pull, tug, and push along that process so that they can accomplish those goals.” Those who aren’t comfortable in a one-to-one setting and find more comfort in a crowd to “blend in” and soak it all up can learn from Summit through classes.
While Honor Credit Union established Summit Financial Wellness, it is not exclusive to them alone, as Barbara will be the first to say, “I’m very transparent in sharing that Honor Credit Union is the founding financial institution for Summit Financial Wellness, but it’s very important that people understand we’re not pushing Honor products. If you’re already at another bank or credit union and that’s where you feel comfortable or you know somebody that works there, we encourage you to continue your current banking relationship.” She adds, it’s also important for them to be seen as a stand-alone nonprofit organization, “so that other financial institutions will feel comfortable when partnering with us and know that we are not your competition.” She reminds everyone, “Our mission and our goal is so much larger than trying to get people just to come to Honor Credit Union. We’re trying to change what this can look like in our community. I think most financial institutions that we’ve worked with so far are aware that is our focus.”
It’s clearly working. By the end of last year, almost 300 people had been served, there were several hundred Facebook followers, and the Summit was able to hold 22 classes around the community through the Show Me the Money Day – one of their signature events. Barbara says, “One of the most important things about what we’re doing is building those collaborative partnerships with various organizations financial institutions around the community,” and adds, this year’s “Show Me the Money Day was very ambitious. During the week of April 13th -16th, we had 15 separate opportunities for participants to engage in various classes ranging from buying a home to starting a business. We even had presenters who spoke about stress and overcoming life’s obstacles. It was designed to really double down and get a lot of information in a fairly short period of time. Our goal, of course after Show Me the Money Day, is to follow up with people and offer them opportunities to participate in additional classes as well as one-on-one coaching.”
Nate Springer, Digital Marketing Manager for Team Honor, talked about the reasoning behind the Credit Union’s creation of Summit Financial Wellness, saying, “I think the biggest thing for Honor members is the value-added benefit that they have available when using a resource like Summit Financial Wellness. In addition to the Summit, we also partner with Green Path Financial Wellness which I’m sure Barbara incorporates into some of her teachings as well. Having so many tools for our Honor members and community members is truly special. If someone is in need of financial coaching or counseling, they have a trusted resource right here in our community who is local and able to have conversations with them, walk them through the budgeting process, explain the credit process, and other things like that.”
It’s gratifying for Barbara to hear the response from people who have an “Aha moment,” realizing the value of what they’ve learned. She says, “In some cases, at the end of our classes, we have had people admit that there are so many things that they just didn’t know. For instance, there are so many myths around credit,” adding, “People are surprised to learn that managing their credit is actually easier than they think once they have the right tools and information.”
“Barbara Sistrunk was so knowledgeable about Credit History, how Credit works, the FICO Score and the class prompted me to revisit budgeting. As a former small Business owner, the class motivated me to get back in Business and to follow through with more counsel from Summit Financial Wellness.” Luvenia Clark
She goes on with a great example, telling us, “I have a person right now whose goal is to buy a home, so we’re working on the basics of getting her finances in order, and getting her comfortable with a written budget. That’s a foundational element from the start. I tell people to write down what you’re spending so you can know. Most people don’t have any idea that they’re spending anywhere near the kind of money that they’re actually spending, or perhaps they don’t think they have the ability to save.”
Success through Summit Financial Wellness is usually pretty identifiable, as Barbara notes, “I consider it a win when I’m able to walk away from a class, or an individual, and they’ve learned something that they didn’t know before and can take that information and put it to use.”
Financial education should always be a critical part of lifelong learning. Barbara Sistrunk knows, saying, “When I was in school, we were taught life skills. You learned how to balance a checkbook, kind of like Personal Finance 101. I’ve shared with participants that I didn’t even know what a budget was, but when I had my first job at 16, I knew what my check was going to be, and I wrote out things like my tithes, lunch money, going to the movies and all those different things. I was monitoring my spending even then and yes, it’s very important, I think, for young people to learn those types of skills that will definitely help them when they become adults.”
For those who never got that chance, the good news is, there’s Summit Financial Wellness, thanks to Honor Credit Union.