There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are fortunate enough to have a trust fund and a full bank account — we’ll try not to secretly hate you — and the other 78% of Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Melonie Gurley, director of education and employment at The CornerStone Initiative, understands. She’s been there. As a single mother with a master’s degree, she found herself the primary custodian for her ailing mother.
Managing the competing stresses of supporting her mother and working her then-job, she had to decide how best to resolve the dilemma. The answer, of course, was that she had to prioritize her mother’s health and wellbeing.
Melonie intentionally underemployed herself and transitioned into part-time employment to be available to drive her mother to and from medical treatments and to accompany her on doctor visits. For the next two years, it was a financial strain, but she was making it.
During the third year, she started working part time at The CornerStone Initiative. She loved her work, but the money was still tight. No one goes into nonprofit work for the money, and Melonie needed a little more to get by.
So she sat down with Debbi Akers, executive director of The CornerStone Initiative, to talk about full-time employment. Melonie’s mother was thriving, so the time was right.
It was awkward — money conversations with your boss usually are — but Debbi understood. She didn’t want to lose Melonie as an employee, but the funds simply weren’t there to hire her on full time. After a lot of praying, Melonie felt God was telling her to stay at CornerStone and that He would provide the rest of the money.
After sharing this need and this opportunity with established donors, the funds became available to employ Melonie full time for the next year!
“I feel that God allowed me to have that whole experience to prepare me to pour into other vulnerable individuals who are going to engage with this ministry,” Melonie said. “Because how could I stand before people, teaching financial education, but yet my financial life is in ruins? I’m thankful that God … entrusted me with that experience.”
The CornerStone Initiative is working to move the needle on generational poverty in one neighborhood in Huntsville, but it takes actually understanding the way money works to even begin. They go about making change in a different way, Debbi said. Instead of barging into an area and telling people what to do, CornerStone’s staff goes in, listens and hears where people are flourishing and also where people are in need of additional support, education, or resources in order to succeed.
“I just think people are in vulnerable financial situations for different reasons,” Melonie said. “Maybe it’s due to the lack of education or skills, unemployment or underemployment. But I also talk with veterans, single parents and one-income couples. … Regardless of the reason for their present circumstances, people are struggling with how to overcome obstacles that block their financial health and wellbeing.”
The CornerStone Initiative has a handful of great programs already, but when they realized the people in their area — and people in general — needed financial literacy, they invested in the Faith and Finances training program. Now, they’re looking for students and mentors to go through the class with them.
Faith and Finances
Groups have tried financial literacy programs in this area in the past, but not on the full scale that The CornerStone Initiative is offering. The 12-week program will go above and beyond the current financial literacy classes offered.
The biblically based, highly relational program is for low-income or fixed-income adults who want to get their finances back on track. Maybe the goal isn’t for them to be middle class. Maybe their goal is just to provide for their family. Maybe it’s to own a home, or maybe it’s just to have enough money so they don’t have to buy slightly irregular bacon off the back of a truck. Maybe, folks needed to gain the knowledge and freedom on how to make payments toward owning furniture as opposed to renting furniture at astronomical weekly prices. Maybe a goal would be how to break free from the entrapment of predatory lenders that are on every street corner in low-income communities.
Students will learn technical, financial management skills like setting savings goals, creating spending plans, tracking spending, living simply, managing debt, understanding financial practices and systems, and preparing for emergencies, Melonie said.
If you’re wondering, Christianity and finance have a lot more in common than just tithing and giving to the church, although those are important pieces that will be discussed at length in the classes.
“They’re going to learn, or be reminded, that everything is from God, and He entrusts us with money,” Melonie said. “What are you going to do with the resources He’s entrusted to you? We’re accountable for that.”
Each week will relate Bible passages and stories to the lessons. For example, the weeks that cover savings will talk about Joseph, a faithful steward in the Bible who had to prepare for a famine. During the seven years of good harvest, he stored up enough grain to last through the sparse years.
When You Need a Friend
Think back to that time, probably when you were a teenager, and you realized what interest was. Your parents explained it, but how could it be possible interest means you always end up paying more for something than it’s really worth? Or think about the time you had to start saving for retirement and had to figure out the difference between Roth IRA, traditional IRA and a 401(k). Who did you ask? Or, even more confusing, the fact that you have to check your credit score, but it goes down every time you check it. Who explained to you why that happens?
Sometimes you just need a friend, someone to talk to and ask all these questions before you start on a new venture.
Every student in Faith and Finances will be paired with an ally, someone who will walk with them every step of the way.
“Key qualifications for an ally is someone who is a follower of Jesus, that has successfully applied biblical stewardship principles in their own personal finances,” Melonie said. “So, someone who has walked the talk and can tell others from experience that doing it God’s way actually works.”
What’s more important about the allies, leaders and students is there will be no judgment.
“We don’t take the position of, ‘Do as I say,’ ” Melonie said. “We are pursuing a vision of long-term, transformative community for everyone involved.”
If you’re interested in the Faith and Finances course as either a student or mentor, contact Melonie Gurley at [email protected]. You can also call the CornerStone office at 256.694.5393.
There are 20 spots available to students, with one or two allies needed for each participant. Each week’s class begins at 5:30 p.m. with a family style dinner that will offer space for relationships to grow. Allies will stay for and participate in class with their students until 8:00. Free childcare will also be provided for participants’ children, from birth to 7 years old.