Jimmy Renita Walker is the Job Search Supervisor at West Houston Assistance Ministries, Inc. She says, "My job is my ministry and my passion. I see many individuals who feel that their backs are against the wall. I like to champion the underserved and the disenfranchised. Just because you're kicked down doesn't mean you can't get back up."
A big proponent of using free, online resources, Jimmy also uses games to teach personal finance. She uses examples and mistakes from her own life to personalize the lessons, which include discussions on budgeting, income to debt ratio, payday loans, emergency funds, separate savings accounts, ID theft, credit, fraud protection, and not living beyond your means. Jimmy uses free materials offered by the FTC and FDIC. Jimmy credits her boss Sonya Scott for the opportunity to teach 12-15 personal finance classes a month, "She believes in me and gave me a chance to succeed."
Born and raised in Houston in the 1950s, Jimmy feels that her personal journey led her to where she is today. Jimmy grew up in a loving and what she describes as a "sheltered" home – "I did not know about the unpleasantries of life." That changed when she married in 1974 and became a victim of domestic violence. She and her ex-husband had three children together and remained together for 10 years. During that time, he controlled the family's finances, prevented her from going to school, and defaced her books. In 1984, Jimmy says she was beaten "within an inch of her life." Her mouth was wired shut for six weeks, and she underwent major reconstructive facial surgery. Today, Jimmy still speaks with a slight lisp as a result of the incident.
During her time in the hospital, Jimmy says she thought about the look on her son's face the day she was beaten and the day she had surgery. "It hurt me. I didn't want my children to grow up in that environment." Jimmy said at that moment, she made the decision to go to college and raise her three children with no child support. She went on to graduate from Houston Baptist University majoring in psychology and sociology. Jimmy also received two scholarships and attained her Masters in Family Studies and began her doctoral studies in education psychology.
The Ministry where Jimmy works is a faith-based organization that feeds, clothes, and financially assists people from all walks of life. Jimmy noticed that many of her clients needed help with rent, utilities, and food. In 2011, she suggested to her supervisor Sonya that they incorporate financial literacy into the professional development classes that were being offered. Jimmy says her clients wanted to learn about money, "They see financial literacy as breaking the chains – circular path – of poverty. You can't measure financial literacy success. It's not tangible until you talk to people and they ask you to bring in more literature. I have no more resources because I'm bringing them everything I have."
When asked what makes her classes successful, Jimmy responds, "Be knowledgeable about your topic. Don't venture into something you don't know about. You can't preach savings to people who don't have money. Find the common ground or area that will reach your students. If you are not genuine, you will lose their attention and their respect."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Jimmy Renita Walker for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education.