Financial coaching program changed local family’s lives
Staff Reporter- Pickens County Courier
September 5, 2023
COUNTY — Liberty resident Christina Steward and her family are on a new path, thanks to a program launched by United Way of Pickens County during the height of the pandemic.
Steward discussed her experience with the Pathways program, at United Way of Pickens County’s 2023 Annual Meeting, held Thursday in Easley.
Pathways is a one on one intensive financial coaching program, according to Lyndy Schonhar, the organization’s Director of Corporate Engagement.
“It was designed to equip participants with the skills, assistance, knowledge and resources to achieve freedom over their finances,” she said.
The Steward family was the very first family to participate in the program, Schonhar said.
Being out of work during the pandemic meant bills were piling up, Steward said.
At one point, her kids needed a new bunkbed and she didn’t how she was going to afford one, she said.
She asked someone at her child’s school if they knew of any programs assisting with rent.
“They pointed me in the direction of United Way and the Pathways program,” Steward said. “Over the course of the next year and a half, while we were in the program, we worked on all of the things that the program still does – creating budgets, creating goals, working on building savings, working on credit, all those things.”
While in the program, she and her family were able to pay off a car and one student loan, she said.
“I recently paid off a second student loan,” Steward said, drawing applause from attendees.
She no longer worries about “how I’m going to afford a bed for my children when things like that happen,” she said.
“In the program we learned how to save up for those things,” Steward said. “We’ve used those resources to really, really change our lives financially.”
Her family budgeted and saved up for a trip to Disney “and it was the trip of a lifetime,” she said.
“With those skills that we learned in the Pathways program, we were able to set aside money to do those things that we wanted and have money to do what we need as well,” Steward said. “The program really taught us many, many life skills. I’m really excited for our future. The Pathways program absolutely changed the trajectory of my family’s future, as I know it’s doing for others that are going through it.”
Naomi Lett is the National Director of State Policy for United Way Worldwide.
South Carolina ranks seventh in the nation for foreclosures and has the highest eviction rate in the country and the average debt to income ratio “is incredibly high,” Lett said.
While such data matters, “stories matter even more,” she said.
Last year, the United Way network worked to pass legislation requiring financial literacy education for South Carolina students, an effort that’s been attempted for a decade, Lett said.
“It is your story that passed that bill,” she told Steward. “Now every student who graduates from high school in South Carolina will be required to complete financial literacy coursework.”
Such education will be “a tool in their toolbox,” Lett said.
“So whatever their financial situation is, it will be much easier to navigate with the knowledge of how interest rates work…because it can be a trap that many fall into and cannot get out of,” she said.
Lett is speaking with five other states among passing similar legislation “and I will share the story of the Stewards,” she said.
“I know the work is hard,” Lett said. “To get to the other side takes sacrifice and letting go. I just want you to know that as you make that path you show others that it’s possible too.”
During the meeting, two locals were recognized for their support of the Pathways program.
John and AnnI Hallock received the 2023 Philanthropists of the Year award.
Schonhar said after learning about the financial literacy and coaching program, the Hallocks offered to host an Open House in their neighborhood to spread the word.
“This couple stepped right up and sponsored a Pathways participant that same night,” she said.
Several months later, they reached out “with an unique and thoughtful offer,” Schonhar said.
They offered to sell a car and donate the money or donate the car itself, she said.
United Way was working with a family “who desperately needed a reliable car,” Schonhar said.
“That car changed the family’s life, really,” she said.
The family was able to return a car that they were paying a high amount on monthly, Schonhar said.
“This one single gift provided stable transportation and an additional $900 each month to this family, making them one step closer to becoming financially stable,” she said. “John and Anni, we’re so grateful to you.”
Originally published in the Pickens County Courier here.