By Bob Jackson
Financial stability for low- to moderate-income women and their families was the focus Saturday during an Empowerment and Financial Fair at the downtown YWCA.
The event, sponsored by the YWCA of Youngstown and the Mahoning County Financial Stability Partnership, presented a “holistic approach” to women’s empowerment and financial management, said Jennie Andrews, YWCA program manager for youth and empowerment.
“The YWCA is a mission- driven organization,” Andrews said. “Our missions are to eliminate racism and to empower women, so everything we do ties into that.”
She said the Y typically targets its programming and events toward low- income women, but decided to open this one to anyone who wanted to attend, regardless of income, because “there is a great need for financial empowerment in this area.”
Andrews and Ginny Pasha, director of community impact for United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said they were disappointed, but not surprised, at the fairly low turnout Saturday. They expected some 60 people to show up, but less than half that many actually came.
Pasha said that’s puzzling because similar events in other counties will draw hundreds of people. This was the local YWCA’s third financial fair.
“It might be because of the subject matter,” Pasha said. “Research has shown that when people are standing around the water cooler, they are much more willing to share the intimate details of their sex life than they are about their financial affairs. People are just reluctant to talk about their financial affairs in a public forum.”
Jackie Rogenski, 56, of Youngstown, was among those who attended, and said she regularly goes to programs at the Y. She came Saturday hoping to gain financial advice that might help her better plan and prepare for her future.
“I live month-to-month,” said Rogenski. “By the time I pay all my bills, I really don’t have a lot left over to save.”
Although the focus was on finances, the event also included a presentation from a domestic-violence survivor and an interactive session on self-defense. There also were tables set up with displays and information from local women’s and financial-resource agencies and businesses.
Pasha said the Financial Stability Partnership aims at assisting people whose income is just more than the federal poverty level.
“Once you rise above that level, all of a sudden you lose access to the financial aid and programming that’s available for those in poverty,” she said. “We want to help those low- to moderate-income families learn to manage their resources. You need to use the money you have wisely, and if that doesn’t work, then you need to find ways to generate more income.”
She said women who came to the financial fair could learn things such as how to open and manage a checking account, or how to manage a mortgage and keep their homes. Those are among the services offered through the FSP, which is a collaborative effort among 23 county and state government agencies, nonprofits, businesses and financial institutions, facilitated by United Way.
She said the FSP and YWCA also collaborate each year to offer a free income-tax preparation service for women. Last year, that service helped some 3,100 clients get back more than $3 million in tax refunds.
“And their entire refund went to them,” Pasha said. “There are no fees or charges from us. It’s all about helping them get back what’s theirs.”
Helping families become financially stable reduces the burden and dependency on other social services, she said.