Category Archives: Financial Education

Volunteer Spotlight: Star Henderson

Our volunteers rock. Want proof? Meet Star Henderson

Name: Star Henderson
Lives: Falls Church, Va.
Works: Accredited Financial Counselor candidate and aFINRA Investor Education Foundation Military Spouse Fellow
Master Financial Education Volunteer Since: September 2014

Master Financial Education Volunteer Star Henderson

Master Financial Education Volunteer Star Henderson

Star Henderson provided invaluable behind-the-scenes help for our Northern Virginia Saves campaign. She created colorful graphics and scheduled 40 plus social media posts on our Facebook and Twitter accounts. She represented us in a Twitter chat with Arlington Community Federal Credit Union and The Centsables. The chat covered how to teach children about savings. This is just her behind-the-scenes volunteering! Henderson coaches clients, leads credit counseling and teaches classes.

Q: What would other volunteers be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m a very introverted person who has to force myself to get out and to teach.

Q: What do you like to do fun?
A: Ride motorcycles with my husband and hang out with my kids.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a financial coach?
A: Not doing something for the client and making sure the skills you’re teaching are sticking with the client. Sometimes we want to fix people, but we need to empower people to do it on their own.

Q: How did you handle pressure to do work for the client?
A: I’ve had clients who didn’t have a checkbook register. We were trying to balance their checkbook against their bank statements. I literally had to make sure I wasn’t writing down information for them. It would have taken me 5 minutes to write it in their register, but that wouldn’t have taught them anything.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a financial coach?
A: Making our clients believe they can manage their finances. The clients I have, their husbands always plan finances. The success story is that I’ve turned the women’s thinking around, and they are trying because they believe they can manage their finances.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you’d know when you first started volunteering?
A: There’s a wealth of knowledge throughout the volunteers. They are all very eager to help. Ask other volunteers about their experiences and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

To nominate a Master Financial Education Volunteer for the spotlight, please email Megan Kuhn at

Alexandria Students Highlight Savings Stories in Essays

A new pair of Timberland boots. A new computer. An emergency fund. These are some of the things that Alexandria high school students have saved money for and that they wrote about as part of new essay contest that culminated in an awards ceremony on Feb. 26th at Fairlington Community Center.

The contest was organized by Virginia Cooperative Extension as part of America Saves Week, a national social marketing campaign that encourages people to save toward specific goals. Ten Alexandria students submitted essays and first, second, and third place winners received cash prizes of $650, $400, and $200, respectively, thanks to grants from the Consumer Federation of America (the group that created America Saves) and Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union.

“My father always told me that it’s not how much you make that’s important, it’s how much you keep,” James Lander, director of Military Saves and Chair of the Arlington County School Board, told the assembled students and their families at the awards ceremony on Thursday. “You all are well on your way to being successful savers and your peers could learn a lot from your example,” Lander said.

First prize winner Amir Shareak wrote his essay about how he sold portraits that he drew so that he could establish an emergency fund to be prepared for the unexpected. Second and third place winners were Cobie Johnson and Matiza Sacotingo, respectively.

VCE hopes to repeat this contest next year and to include students from more schools. To learn more about America Saves, visit the local site at: and take the savings pledge.

Essay winners and those receiving honorable mentions gather with essay contest judges Diana Yacob, Bill Guey-Lee (both Master Financial Education Volunteers), and Megan Kuhn--VCE Arlington's Financial Education Program Associate.

Essay winners and those receiving honorable mentions gather with essay contest judges Diana Yacob, Bill Guey-Lee (both Master Financial Education Volunteers), and Megan Kuhn–VCE Arlington’s Financial Education Program Associate.

From Russia to South Arlington

Extension has received a $7,500 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to teach Russian city and nonprofit leaders about our volunteer program modules. We will be sharing best practices for volunteer-driven nonprofit work.

The grant is through the Embassy’s U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, which supports projects focused on peer-to-peer collaboration. Extension partnered with the nonprofit WSOS Community Action in Freemont, Ohio, on the grant application. The total grant is worth $95,000. In addition to visiting with us, the Russian delegation will meet with nonprofits in Ohio and Utah.

Virginia Cooperative Extension celebrates 100 years, showcases Arlington and Alexandria programs

Volunteers Bill Guey-Lee and Desiree Kaul manage the Master Financial Education display.

Volunteers Bill Guey-Lee and Desiree Kaul manage the Master Financial Education display at Virginia Cooperative Extension’s breakfast showcase at Fairlington Community Center.

Virginia Cooperative Extension‘s breakfast showcase, highlighting Arlington and City of Alexandria programs, made the news.

A few 2014 highlights:

  • Staff and Master Financial Education volunteers started Money Smarts Pay, which combines money management classes with financial coaching to help participants adopt positive financial habits. Extension partnered with Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and The Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless to offer Money Smarts Pay to affordable housing tenants.
  • Staff and Master Food Volunteers addressed childhood obesity by organizing healthy cooking classes for teens in foster care and low-income teens, and 4-H Food Challenge events.
  • VCE–Arlington, with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, won the national Extension Housing Outreach Award.

Read the full story here.



Master Financial Education Volunteers Instrumental in Success of Money Smarts Pay

In a post earlier this week we talked about the graduates from the first Money Smarts Pay program, a course that combines one-on-one financial coaching with money management classes. We are very excited about this new model for financial education because we believe it will be more effective at achieving long-term results for participants.

Because this program is so intensive and requires not only instructors for each of the classes but also an individual financial coach for each of the participants, it would be impossible without the help and dedication of our trained Master Financial Education Volunteers. The volunteer coaches meet twice with their clients each month during the three months of the program (for six in-person meetings) and call them twice a month in between in-person meetings to check on their progress. The instructors lead the classes and orient participants to the actions that they are expected to take and the expectations of the program.

In the first course at Arlington Mill Apartments volunteers Desiree Kaul, Shauna Dyson, and Nichole Hyter did an admirable job of encouraging their clients to take action steps to improve their finances. Their efforts paid off, with all of their clients reporting that they are saving money toward specific goals, cutting back on their spending, and creating and using a spending plan, and getting out of debt. Volunteer Emma Li joined this group during the middle of the course when one participant dropped out and a new one joined.

We are currently conducting the Money Smarts Pay courses at three other sites and want to extend special thanks to Desiree Kaul and Nichole Hyter who have taken on new clients after their first ones graduated. Desiree has also stepped up to serve as an instructor at one of the sites. Thanks to the following volunteers who are also serving as coaches: Felipe Bohorquez, John Bowen, Jay Dowling, Gerri Gerardi, Lenny Gonzalez, Star Henderson, Tom Hoopengardner, Katrin Kark (also an instructor), Edith Lam, Jose Olivas (also an instructor), Meggan Orenstein, Esperanza Powers, Patrick Sullivan, and Diana Yakob. Thanks so much to everyone for all the time they are putting in on this new program.

Welcome Graduates from the First Money Smarts Pay Course

On November 13 five women graduated from the inaugural course of the Money Smarts Pay program at Arlington Mill Apartments. All of them took specific actions to improve their money management habits such as creating and sticking to a budget, saving money in an emergency fund, saving toward a down payment on a house, and working on paying down debts.

Money Smarts Pay is a new program that we began in August 2014 in collaboration with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). It combines two of the services that we have been providing for more than 20 years: one-on-one financial coaching and money management classes. Participants take three classes, each separated by a month, on the topics of goal setting and budgeting, credit and debt management, and saving strategies. In the weeks between the classes participants meet with volunteer financial coaches who help them practice the skills that they learned in the class sessions and take the specific actions that we outline for each session. The course culminates in an awards ceremony to honor the achievements of all of the participants.

Participants pose with their certificates and coaches

Participants pose with their certificates and coaches

This hybrid approach will hopefully achieve better and longer lasting results for clients than either the coaching or classes have done by themselves, and the initial data from this first course are bearing that out. Participants are sticking to the positive behavior changes that they have adopted and are saving money toward concrete goals.

We also started Money Smarts Pay courses at two other APAH properties in September and November—Columbia Grove and Buchanan Gardens. These courses will end in December and February, respectively. When another organization, Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, heard about the program they wanted it for their clients too, so we began a program for them in November.

We will be leading a total of six Money Smarts Pay programs for APAH in fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015) and are looking forward to expanding the program to other organizations as well. If you would like more information about this program, please contact Jennifer Abel or Megan Kuhn: or


Going on an All Cash Diet

By Master Financial Education Volunteer Lenny Gonzalez

Lenny Gonzalez, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Lenny Gonzalez, Master Financial Education Volunteer

In January 2014 we decided we needed to get our spending under control. After talking to friends and family and researching some of their suggestions, we decided to go on the all cash diet.

What is the all cash diet?

It’s a spending tool that asks you to make the bulk (80 percent) of your purchases with cash instead of a credit card or debit card. It’s a great way to understand where you’re money is going each week or month. All you need to get started is:

  • A marker – to write with
  • An envelope – to hold your cash
  • A piece of paper – in each envelope to keep record of the money you spend

To get started we listed the major items we spend money on each month:

  • Groceries
  • Laundry
  • Metro (bus and rail)
  • Gas
  • Pet Supplies
  • Petty Cash

After we listed these categories, we labeled six envelopes and added the amount of money we thought we spend on a monthly basis on each category. Then each time we would buy something (grocery store, pet store) from the category we would take the money out, document the date and total dollar figure, make the purchase and return the extra money to envelope.

Here’s an Example:

Groceries – starting balance is $450 (two people avg. $110 a week).

  • The first week we take out $110.
  • We spend $90 at the store.
  • We add the unspent $20 back to the envelope, leaving us with a balance of $360.

If we continue to save $20 dollars each week we can save a total of $80 a month!

As we save money we simply roll the extra money over to the next month building up a surplus that can help in the event we have an emergency.

The all cash diet is the only diet where gaining is a good thing! Give it a try and watch your money grow!

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Mike May
Lives: Reston
Works: Financial Advisor for more than 30 years
Mike May has volunteered as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since 2012. This summer he developed a new Extension presentation about the best time to claim social security benefits.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I spent the first 13 years of my life overseas because my father was in the State Department. I had to learn how to adapt to a bunch of cultures. It was a great, liberal education.

Q. Where was the most interesting place you lived?
A: Pretoria, South Africa. There was a game preserve, and we spent a lot of time going through listening to the roaring lions. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

The main thing I learned from living overseas was how to deal with different types of people. After South Africa I moved to Fiji, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia. If you don’t learn to adapt you won’t do so well.

Q. Why is financial education important?
A. It’s life changing. I’ve had people say to me, “I’ve never had a budget before, but now I feel I’m in control of my finances rather than my finances in control of me.” It was simply because I’d taught them how to set up a budget.

Q: What prompted you to create a new class for us?
A: In the past I directed people to the Social Security Administration’s website because their website is straightforward. But my financial advising clients who are baby boomers kept asking about social security. When I took a class titled Savvy Social Security Planning Strategies for Baby Boomers, I realized there was a lot more to know about social security. I initially went to the class for my work clients, but I want to get this information out to everyone.

Q. Why do you volunteer?
A. I want to get out the information. I teach 10 Baby Steps to Financial Freedom at my church. It’s usually attended by folks in their 20s and 30s who are just getting started in life financially. I just wish when I was that young that I had been told some of the things I’ve been able to tell young people.

The same thing is true for my volunteering with Extension. Folks are looking for help and don t necessarily have the money to pay for a financial advisor. They’re looking for objective, good counsel.

Q. We trained new volunteers in August and September. What advice would you give to our new volunteers?
A: Really pay attention to the instructor and the materials given out. Then do additional research to add to and enhance what the basic materials are. Google budgeting and do some independent study so you feel more confident.

Volunteer Spotlight: Joan Smith

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Joan Smith

Lives: Suitland, Maryland

Works: Arlington County Government

Joan Smith has served as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since April 2012. She recently taught a money management class at Alexandria Community Shelter, an emergency shelter near Old Town.

Master Financial Education Volunteer Joan Smith

Master Financial Education Volunteer Joan Smith

Q. What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

A. That I’m an Extension volunteer not just with financial literacy but 4-H in Arlington and Fairfax County.

Q. Were you in 4-H growing up?

A. No, I was a Campfire Girl.

Q. What’s your favorite thing to save for?

A. An emergency. I’ve had emergencies and wasn’t prepared. I had to use a credit card, or there was something I had to hold off on. I’ve made saving for an emergency a priority. We can’t control things, but it is good to try to be somewhat prepared.

Q. What’s your favorite splurge?

A. Chocolate ice cream and fabric.

Q. How did you become interested in financial literacy?

A. When I lived out of state, I used a credit counselor. Most of my financial trouble came through layoffs. I was drawing unemployment, but it cannot pay for everything.

My personal experience propelled me to volunteer. I saw a lot of misinformation. People not knowing they can dispute things. Not knowing they can get a free credit report. Not knowing their rights when debt collectors harass you.

Q. How do you help a client who is juggling multiple financial challenges at once?

A. My approach when they have a half dozen things going on is to listen first. Then I tell them they did the right thing to attend counseling.

We take one situation at a time. Try to tackle something that has a quick result. When the client sees something small happen, that will encourage them to keep going.

Q. We have a new crop of volunteers who underwent training in September. What advice do you have for them?

A. Whatever volunteer event they do, pair up with a seasoned volunteer. Ask questions. Exchange emails with other volunteers. I learn all the time from other volunteers.

Try different things. That’s how you’ll know what may be a good niche for you. Some prefer one-on-one counselling. Some prefer money management classes at the shelter. Some prefer Kids’ Marketplace. I know a volunteer who prefers one-on-one counseling with the elderly because that is her age group.


New Volunteers, Round 2

bean game team 1

We trained 34 new volunteers to serve as financial coaches in early September. Our regular fall training followed our expedited training for financial professionals in August. Eight financial professionals joined our ranks last month.

This brings us to a record 42 new volunteers! Volunteers make our programs possible, so the turnout makes my heart sing.

E and J

A very big thank you to our friends and partners who spread the word about our recruitment drive. An especially big thanks goes to Community Tax Aid‘s Teresa Hinze who sent an email blast to her volunteers. Community Tax Aid was our top source of volunteers — 13. Our second biggest source of volunteers was the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants, with 6 volunteers. Thanks to David Bass for including our recruitment drive in his group’s message board.

We also owe thanks to: DC-Hispanic Employee Network, the Hispanic Committee of Northern Virginia Family Service, Volunteer Arlington, The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors DC study group, Arlington Neighborhood College, Leadership Arlington, Care 4 Your Future and Georgetown University Center for Continuing & Professional Education Certificate in Financial Planning. Say that five times fast.

Our next training for Master Financial Education Volunteers is April 18 & 25, 2015. Both sessions are mandatory. To register, please contact me at or call 703-228-6421.

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