Moderated by Rick Badie
Too many of us would either flunk or barely pass a grading of our personal financial literacy. Many of Atlanta’s business leaders are aware of the problem and support various efforts to strengthen the region’s consumer literacy rates and put folks in control of their money and lives. Today, SunTrust CEO Jenner Wood writes about the commitment by leaders across Georgia to educate consumers. I highlight the HOPE Financial Dignity Center located at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.
A mission for ‘Silver Rights’
By Rick Badie
On Nov. 14, hundreds of people gathered at the Operation HOPE Financial Dignity Center to celebrate the opening of the Atlanta complex. The nonprofit’s work to advance financial literacy and economic empowerment, though, had begun long before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. More than 1,200 people had already participated in workshops and services at various locales.
The center’s location — the anchor tenant of the Martin Luther King Sr. Community Resources Complex, next to Ebenezer Baptist Church — holds significance for James “Jay” Bailey, CEO of Operation HOPE in Atlanta.
“HOPE is more than humbled by the opportunity to continue the work that (Martin Luther King Jr.) started with the Poor People’s Campaign,” he said via e-mail. “I can think of no better place than on the hallowed ground of the King Center campus, in the shadow of Ebenezer Baptist Church and across the street from Dr. King’s final resting place, to carry out our mission of ‘Silver Rights.’”
Operation Hope was founded shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Its mission: To serve poor and underserved communities, provide better access to financial services, teach people how to manage money, make wise choices and tap into the free market system. The California-based nonprofit operates in South Africa, Haiti and dozens of U.S. cities that include Atlanta, according to its website, www.operationhope.org.
The HOPE Financial Dignity Center at Ebenezer offers two personal finance programs. A credit and money management workshop teaches participants how to plan and structure a budget. It also addresses credit — how to leverage it. The second personal finance program, “700 Credit Score Communities,” is an ongoing workshop that deals with additional elements of personal finance, but in group settings.
“When you transform a neighborhood to become a 700-credit score community, title lenders, payday lenders and rent-to-own stores become credit unions and community banks,” said John Hope Bryant, founder and HOPE CEO. “And liquor stores are transformed into convenient stores and grocery markets.”
Other free programs:
* Entrepreneurship: Divided into phases, the program offers a six-week course called “Business Basics for Dreamers,” in which entrepreneurs structure ideas and focus on business plan development. Part two is a 12-week session that deals with business incorporation, capital access, marketing and social media.
“Financial literacy, or financial capability, can be described as the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively to create, achieve and maintain financial well-being,” Bryant said. “Individuals empowered with their own sense of financial dignity ask more relevant questions, demand better products and services, are more aspirational, and position themselves as an upwardly mobile market for the future.”
Financial literacy is a priority
By Jenner Wood
The last few years have been difficult for Georgia families, businesses and nonprofits. Wages have stagnated. Good-paying jobs are harder to come by. Philanthropic donations are down from their 2007 peak. The silver lining, however, is that these challenges have stirred leaders across Georgia to forge partnerships on financial education that will strengthen our workforce and benefit our state for years to come.
Many American families face financial and demographic pressures. An estimated 16 million people are sandwiched between two generations, struggling to raise children and care for aging loved ones. Others face the challenge of raising a special-needs child; 24 percent in this situation report that a parent had to stop working — or reduce hours — to care for their child. The economy is one factor exerting financial pressure on individuals and families.
Despite difficult times, consumers still aspire to move forward. They want to make wise money decisions so they can afford retirement, send their children to college and establish an emergency fund.
That’s a tough order, especially if individuals do not have the right financial tools and knowledge. A recent financial literacy survey found that 42 percent of respondents gave themselves a grade of C, D or F on their personal finance knowledge. That statistic must improve if we are to build a better economic foundation for the future. The Atlanta community is marshaling the human and financial capital necessary to make significant strides in this area.
The most recent example is the Junior Achievement’s Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, which will be housed at the Georgia World Congress Center. It is scheduled to open next fall. This innovative “marketplace” includes two interactive venues, JA Finance Park and JA BizTown, which will offer hands-on assignments so students can participate in simulated real-life financial and job situations. The process begins with four weeks of classroom instruction and culminates with the interactive elements.
Approximately 30,000 sixth- through eighth-graders attending Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton schools are expected to participate annually. Chick-fil-A Foundation is the generous lead sponsor. SunTrust Bank and the SunTrust Foundation will provide support and have committed $1.4 million to the project. Numerous business and community partners are on board.
Operation HOPE is another important organization empowering people to succeed. In November, Operation HOPE opened the HOPE Financial Dignity Center, which will provide workshops and classes on home buying, credit scores, start-up businesses and other topics. SunTrust donated $1 million for the center; many other businesses, including State Farm Insurance and Coca-Cola, made significant investments as well.
At SunTrust, we use the term “financial well-being” to describe the financial situation we want our clients to achieve. That means being in control of your money so you can achieve your dreams — buying a home, starting a business, educating children or retiring early. Accomplishing these goals require knowledge of your financial options and access to the right tools, from the First Time Home Buyer (FHA) program to SBA loans, 401(k) programs and the gamut of financial products and services. We commend Atlanta business and community leaders for their efforts to extend these opportunities.
Jenner Wood is Atlanta/Georgia chairman, president and CEO of SunTrust.