Helping the underbanked and underserved populations overcome their fear of managing money is one of volunteer financial literacy educator Veronica Dangerfield's key goals in working with students at the Brighter Beginnings program in Oakland, CA.
Using her background as a comedian to connect with the clients of Brighter Beginnings, Dangerfield jumps right in to help those who are attending the program's financial literacy workshops get comfortable talking about a difficult topic. "Because of lack of banking knowledge and bad experiences, people feel shame when talking about their personal finances," says Dangerfield, who also works at Patelco Credit Union as Marketing Manager and a financial literacy educator and mentor. "Money problems breed hopelessness. In my workshops, the main goal is to make people feel validated, regardless of their financial pasts. The key is to make it relevant, memorable and fun."
Dangerfield was introduced to Brighter Beginnings when she sponsored a local family during the holiday season. Shortly after sponsoring a young single mother and her infant child, she spoke to Brighter Beginning's Executive Director Barbara Bunn McCullough about her financial education volunteer work at local colleges and high schools throughout Northern California. She helped design a curriculum for a six-week workshop series hosted on-site at Brighter Beginnings, with sessions on banking, budgeting and saving. The Oakland non-profit, which was traditionally a maternal and child health organization, has added financial education programs to address the income disparities that often lead to poorer health outcomes for its clients.
Dangerfield stepped up and helped Brighter Beginnings develop and deliver financial education workshops to boost their clients' money management knowledge and to give them the self-confidence needed to start saving. The three cornerstones of her financial literacy message are saving, budgeting and earning. "Teaching is my passion, so I had to address how to make a class about finances fun. I had to show people that financial literacy is not a root canal. Many people are overcome with helplessness when it comes to handling their money. I have been asked why I teach financial literacy to people who have little money. Everything in life is a temporary situation. We all have a bright and successful financial future. Money is never a terminal problem."
One of the memorable things Dangerfield does with participants is to give them a financial birthday. Of a recent class, Leah Terran, MPH, Volunteer and Financial Education Manager says, "She brought a cake and students celebrated a new beginning to their financial lives, which would include budgeting, saving and recognizing their own potential to earn money."
That simple act can change the momentum–from fear of money and distrust of the banking system–to empowerment. "Many have been in the banking system and, due to lack of knowledge, have made mistakes that got them kicked out of the banking system. That's another part of the re-education," explains Dangerfield. "To financially start over again, they realize they don't have to suffer from the mistakes they've made. They can fix the problem."
After educating Brighter Beginnings' clients on important money matters; such as the difference between banks and credit unions, the basics of checking accounts and savings accounts, and how to prevent identity theft; Dangerfield's contributions have fostered success. A single mother who completed the workshops saved enough to get out of a motel and into an apartment; another had the courage to clean up her credit report after 10 years of ignoring it; and still others have started saving money for the first time in their lives.
"The concept of saving and paying yourself first is almost foreign (to the underbanked and underserved audience). I tell them it's the most important bill you pay before rent or the phone bill–is too pay yourself first," she said. Earning money is an important part of the workshops too, and Dangerfield encourages participants to have an entrepreneurial attitude about making extra money to put towards savings. "Some have collected cans, sold their kids' old toys, hosted garage sales and one even started a car detailing business," she said.
In addition to the programs at Brighter Beginnings, Dangerfield has done outreach with the group's Alameda County community partners, including Berkeley High School, Berkeley Cal Prep, and the Berkeley Early Head Start program. She has also provided financial literacy education to thousands of local teens and youth leaving the foster care system through Patelco.
The measure of success for Dangerfield has been "knowing that students didn't feel helpless about their financial situations anymore."
Visa Inc. recently honored Dangerfield for her financial literacy efforts at a Major League Soccer game featuring the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy. The volunteer financial literacy educator displayed her energy and humor by participating in the opening ceremonies and handling the coin toss for the June 25 match in Santa Clara, CA.
Practical Money Skills commends Veronica Dangerfield for her efforts and commitment to financial literacy with the Brighter Beginnings program in Oakland, CA.