‘Silver Rights’ for the underserved

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.

*  Homeowner education. The workshop, offered on the second Saturday of each month, goes through the phases of buying a home. Participants learn about the loan process, home inspection, insurance and so on.

“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.



8 comments Add your comment

Loganville Guy

December 12th, 2012
2:44 pm

Mangler @ 1:20 PM….

There is a huge difference in the federal government telling me they are going to let me keep some of the money I’ve earned through deductions instead of writing someone a check who is not paying taxes. If you fail to see that, you have bigger problems.

Tax deductions are allowing me to keep money that I’ve earned – not the other way around. Pensions are something that I’ve earned via an employment contract. Social Security and Medicare are things that I’ve paid into with the understanding that I’d collect them back down the road. I’ve got news for you… If you were to get an average rate of return on your SS investment, the deal is actually a money losing proposition for you.

Things like medicaid, food stamps, WIC, and other programs are certainly needed as a TEMPORARY solution to fallign on hard times. However, they are nothing like any of the other examples you have thrown out and we should figure out a way to reduce lifetime or extended reliance on them.


December 12th, 2012
1:20 pm

Whirled, Deborah, and most other arm chair economists on here:

I trust none of you takes advantage of the mortgage interest deduction, writes off charitable donations, or cashes any social security checks that may get sent your way. I also trust none of you use medicare or medicaid. I trust none of you used federal student loans at all, or for that matter federally backed mortgages ever. I also trust none of you ever drive on an interstate highway, or fly on an airplane that lands at FAA controlled airports, or eat food that you haven’t grown yourself. I also trust that every one of you has served your country in come capacity, from military to public service positions, and that when you retired or left, you denied the pensions or lifetime insurance that came along with those positions.

Because if any single one of those applies to any of you, then you too are living off the public dole. So realize that you all suck money from the Federal Gov’t every single day. Period.

Whirled Peas

December 12th, 2012
8:51 am

This “feel good” program will not solve the problem we have with irresponsible people living off the public dole. We live in a society where we send people checks for 99 weeks for being unemployed. 47.7 million Americans are on food stamps. No one knows how many kids are getting “free or reduced” school lunches. The “Bright from the Start” program provides “free” lunches to kids in day care. We give out “free” Obama phones. We hand out “emergency assistance” to anyone from any country regardless of whether they are supposed to even be here. We give free healthcare to anyone in need of it. We give Social Security to people from other countries who have never paid in a dime. We even give out free burials after they die. Our problem is cradle to grave socialism. We have a federal government $16.4 trillion in debt. Federal spending has gone up 27 per cent since 2008. Yet Obama and the Democrats propose more “stimulus” spending, not spending cuts.

Yes, I’m sure your program makes you feel good. You would do much better if you could get people to sit up and understand what the hell has happened to our country. Good luck.

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have”.
Thomas Jefferson


December 12th, 2012
7:03 am

They need to teach responsibility first. Too many of these programs simply teach the participants how to game the system. Instead of teaching them how to finagle a loan that they cannot possibly pay, teach them that, until they can save a 20% down payment, until they get their credit score above 700, until they are ready to mow the lawn, fix the leaks, etc. , they need to be a renter. Our housing market imploded for the same reason our education system and our health care system are expensive and ineffective–not every American is entitled to home ownership. Not every American needs or should go to college, so student loans for these bizarro universities that suck money from poor people trying to improve their lives by getting bogus degrees are mushrooming, and the poor are defaulting left and right. What they don’t realize is that the government can take your loan payments from your salary. Not every American–those who do not want or cannot pay for health insurance–is entitled to have access to healthcare. I would love to attend some of these classes to see if they are going to teach about the harsh realities of economics, or if they are just going to teach them how to access government programs which are fast becoming extinct. In my experience, it will be the latter.

Airport Job

December 12th, 2012
2:01 am

I found your blog quite interesting and the concern in the blog is
really impressive.
Airport Job


December 11th, 2012
10:51 pm

Let’s talk about ‘irresposnsibility’–the major banks fudged paperwork at times and doctored income eligibility to allow those who genuinely could not afford a home to have a mortgage, then expected them to magically be able to pay for it. Major banks even to this day refuse to make it possible for those who are struggling to pay their mortgages to easily renegotiate the terms so they can pay on time and in full, leaving them open to foreclosure. The major banks obtained scores of homes illegally from those who were paying their mortgages properly by ‘robo-signing’ documents instead of having a human being review the documents before signing off on seizing them. In neighborhoods with large numbers of foreclosures, the major banks have failed to do even basic upkeep on the empty houses they ‘own’, making them magnets for crime and fire hazards. And let’s discuss these banks suddenly getting into fields of study they had no education or experience in getting into, such as investment strategies, and banks who decided to gamble the money they had to operate on with risky ventures in the hope of lining their own pockets, and when those investments failed, the banks had to be bailed out by the federal government, all the while the CEO’s were guaranteeing their own golden parachutes so they could walk away with a reward for their irresponsibility. So Jenner Wood can whine all he wants about rights for the ‘undeserved’, as long as he puts himself in that category.


December 11th, 2012
6:11 pm

“Homeowner education.”

Hopefully they’ll teach that home ownership entails more than just buying a house. It also includes things like routine maintenance and not having to be reminded by the homeowner’s association every two weeks to mow your grass.

My former idiot/subprime next door neighbors, foreclosed on and subsequently put out of their house by sheriff’s deputies, could’ve used the class.


December 11th, 2012
5:59 pm

The changing climate in this country seems to be one that rewards instead of punishes irresponsible behavior. My Mother, while not wealth, has managed to save a decent amount of money through hard work and responsible behavior. However, this means that she does not qualify for tax payer funded programs for the elderly. While many folks blew their money on Bass Boats, Harley Davisons and SUVs Mom sacrificed to have a little left for retirement. Now, she is forced to pay income tax on the little money she has to support those living irresponsible lifestyles.

So, yes I support financial literacy education. However, I fear the problem is not literacy, but responsibility. We all know we should began saving at an early age and not put too much on credit, but people still ignore even the basic.