Sarah Baker, CFP®, has always found great meaning and purpose in pro bono work. “Working with people who need help but can’t afford financial planning services, whose lives are often very different from those of the people I interact with every day – it gives me perspective,” she said.
To pursue her passion for giving back, Sarah connected with the Financial Empowerment Center at South County (in Alexandria, VA), a space operated partner and grantee, Britepaths. Here she met Samir, a participant in the Healthcare Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, which was developed to help individuals pursue better-paying jobs in the healthcare fields where there is a high need for skilled workers.
Seeking more freedom and the opportunity to build a life she truly longed for, Samir moved to the United States from Afghanistan in 2017 with her husband and two children. As Samir put it, “In America, women have the chance to do anything they want.” Samir holds a teaching degree and her husband has a chemical engineering degree, both from an Afghanistan university. Due to their foreign educations, neither Samir nor her husband have been able to work in their career fields since relocating. Samir is currently working part-time, and her husband is working a full-time, low-paying job.
In addition to providing training in healthcare and job readiness, the Pre-Apprenticeship Program uses pro bono financial planners to improve financial literacy, helping students like Samir develop an understanding of topics such as U.S. banking, lending, credit, credit scores, and basic personal financial management. Pro bono financial planners also conduct one-on-one coaching sessions with each pre-apprenticeship student.
For Sarah, this was the perfect opportunity to use her skills and talent to help someone in need. “I see how much I can change the lives of Samir and her family by providing them with good financial principles and understanding,” she said. “Samir is quite educated and very committed to bettering her financial position. She and her husband work very hard, trying to squeeze every benefit from their current income.”
During their coaching session, Sarah discussed with Samir the importance of creating financial goals with her husband and developing a spending approach that incorporates a savings plan to meet their future goals. Sarah advised Samir to consider raising both her and her husband’s withholding exemptions to increase their net pay due to their low incomes and the 2018 tax law changes. She also suggested that Samir look into financial aid options for her medical assistant certification. Sarah said, “Samir was like a sponge soaking up every part of the class and her one-on-ones with me, learning everything that she could.”
Following their session, Samir explained, “Our planner showed us the financial part of the United States that we didn’t know about. Before, we didn’t know anything about how to go further, but now we know the right steps to take to build the lives we want to live.”
For other financial planners considering this work, Sarah recommends that they exhibit empathy, understanding, and creativity in the solutions they have to offer. “These sessions provide planners the chance to be creative, find a deep purpose in our work, and offer value to families outside of the typical finance bubble we work in each day. I would strongly recommend that all financial planners consider pro bono opportunities.”