Creating a Financial Literacy Program: Being a VISTA and the Importance of Community Connections


Hank Hollins

I’m the AmeriCorps VISTA for the Literacy Council of Sarasota. For me, being a VISTA has been all about community connections. Having a plan about what I wanted to accomplish and sharing that plan with grant-makers and community leaders has led to a great financial literacy program. Now I’m there each week as the learners enjoy the resources which my service has helped provide. It’s extremely gratifying and fun to boot!

I had heard about the great success of programs which paired money management education with matched emergency savings programs. Financial education is combined with a free savings account and what the learner saves is matched up to a certain amount at the end. I decided that this was a combination with great appeal.

I first approached CredAbility (www.credability.org). They were very eager to help teach the workshops. As one community connection leads to another, my CredAbility representative passed along the name of a local Regions Bank associate she knew to be very involved in financial literacy and actively seeking non-profits to partner with. I talked to him, and he wanted to join us on this project: Regions would donate free savings accounts.

It was around this time I applied for my first grant. To my admitted surprise, I obtained a grant for the workshops portion of the program right out of the gate. The first grant I’d ever applied for! I was, however, only halfway there. The local foundation gave us money for the workshops but not the matching funds. I tried numerous things, calling local businesses and researching grants, exploring various ways of finding this money.

The connections I had already made, though, were where the solution lay. I reached out to my partner at Regions and asked if they might want to become more involved. He put me in touch with head of Community Affairs for the whole Tampa Bay region. We were both a little nervous, reaching so high up the chain of command, but it went wonderfully! He was very interested in our program, and Regions agreed to provide a $100 match to each of our learners for our twelve-week, twelve-class program. We were ready to go!

Now the classes are underway. The learners were given an introduction to banking during the first class, and learned the importance of setting financial goals the next. Next week, we will be covering the importance of paying yourself first. There will be classes on tracking expenses, budgeting, credit, investments, etc.

The classes are so much fun! We laugh and learn in the common room of one our Housing Authority complexes—yet another partnership—and I couldn’t be more satisfied. The most important part to me, though, was what I learned about community connections. I started with an idea and connected the dots between funders, community leaders, educators, and learners. In a way, I’m proud of this program as my own, but it really isn’t—it could go on without me. It belongs to the community.

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[…] Council of Sarasota- A Celebration Honoring the Life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Hank Hollins and the Literacy Council of Sarasota are partnering with AmeriCorps State and National serving Suncoast seniors and R.S.V.P. to put on […]

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