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Getting MoneySmart One Woman at a Time

April 20, 2015

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I approached an unmarked building in Anacostia to participate in a financial literacy training for homeless women. As I walked from the subway, a woman on the sidewalk crushed a burning cigarette against a brick building, blew the hot ashes off, and put the remaining butt in her pocket for later.

While the streetscape was gray and drizzly on this dark February day, a white staircase inside Calvary Women’s Services led to brightly-lit classrooms and women shuffling with books to get to class.

I peeked in a room and found Mary Martha Fortney, a sparkling former Congressional aide who chairs the Women in Housing and Finance (WHF) Foundation, a prestigious organization that offers financial empowerment training to the women at Calvary. While WHF attracts cabinet members, Federal Reserve governors, and prominent elected leaders as speakers and members in the nation’s capital, Mary Martha’s mission on this day was to offer a FDIC-designed literacy course on “financial recovery” for the homeless women. It’s part of an ongoing effort by WHF using FDIC’s MoneySmart curriculum.

WHF Foundation Chair with honoree Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) before his retirement last year. (Photo by: Women in Housing and Finance) WHF Foundation Chair with honoree Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) before his retirement last year.

As women took their places and the class filled up, it was soon revealed that not one of the women had a bank account. One had gone through foreclosure, with her credit destroyed. Only one woman had a job – part-time as a clerk at a drug store in far-away Crystal City. It would take her 45 minutes on the subway and buses to get from the shelter to work. But she was very grateful to work. She had income.

Mary Martha and another WHF volunteer, a U.S. Senate staffer, listened to the women’s stories and led them through various exercises: how to cut expenses, how to stretch dollars, how to set financial goals.

“We don’t call it financial literacy,” Mary Martha says. “This is financial empowerment.”

At the end of the class, a dozen women graduated during a ceremony with certificates, cake and ginger ale – the fifth class in the WHF program to do so. One of the graduates, a woman in her 60s hadn’t said much during the class, but leaned over to an instructor and whispered, “I don’t like to share too much in the class. I’m a private person. But I save.”

Her case worker from Calvary, which offers housing, health, education and employment programs that empower homeless women to live independently, said, “I’ve got that money order ready for you, when you’re ready.” The woman looked around at the crowded room asked quietly if the transfer could be made later.

The case worker nodded in approval. “She’s one of our best savers,” the case worker whispered to the WHF instructor.

The WHF Foundation is starting its next eight-week financial empowerment session at Calvary on May 5, and I can’t wait to get to class.

We volunteers will work with a new group of women, empowering them to make financial decisions to improve their lives.  "This is a win-win for everyone involved," Mary Martha said.  "We are grateful to work to make a difference - one hour, one woman at a time."  

For more about Women in Housing and Finance, click here.

For more about Calvary Women's Services, click here.



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Federal, D.C. Officials Recognize MLK, Jr. at IMPACT Event

January 19, 2015

D.C. Mayor Murial Bowser joined federal officials including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a series of weekend events honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., featuring a clean-up around the MLK Jr. Memorial and a wreath-laying honoring the civil rights leader's legacy.

IMPACT, a D.C. organization that engages young professionals of color in economic empowerment and political activities, hosted the events along with the MLK, Jr. Memorial Foundation and the Faith and Politics Institute.  Addressing a group of 150 volunteers who gathered early Saturday morning weilding hoes, pruners and bags of mulch to help the National Park Service polish up the memorial grounds before the weekend's ceremonies, Jewell became emotional in speaking of King's legacy. "The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial," she said, noting that King had advanced America's core principles of justice and equal rights. "But the work is not finished," she said, with tears in her eyes. "We have a lot to do in education and economic empowerment to make Dr. King's dream a reality." 

Bowser, speaking for the first time at the memorial since becoming Mayor, noted King's youth. "He was called home when he was just 39," she said. Bowser emphasized the importance of youth in carrying King's legacy forward. 

IMPACT, led by Director Brandon Andrews, is an organization that is helping to advance King's legacy with programs for D.C. youth. "We work with companies and governments to offer internships and jobs to get D.C. youth into the workforce," Andrews, who previously worked in the U.S. Senate and for Hand On/DC Cares, said. The group also encourages political engagement by D.C.'s young people, ages 18-40. The group will host a State of the Union Party Tuesday, Jan. 20, 8:00-10:00 pm at Busboys & Poets at 5th and K Sts. NW in Shaw.

For more information about IMPACT, click here.

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Essential for All Election Campaigns: The Essential Danby

November 3, 2014

The Essential Danby, a great book for your coffee table (Photo by: Amazon) The Essential Danby, a great book for your coffee table

Crabby. Cross. Out of sorts.

With negative ads flooding the airwaves, firehoses of money scattering more voters away, the American electorate has been irritated. And/or discouraged. And/or hiding in the basement. 

Guess what America, Campaign 2016 starts today. Help!

Enter George Danby, an equal-opportunity offender who uses cartoons to poke, pierce and parody the political class. His new book, The Essential Danby, is a beautiful album of wry to wicked cartoons aimed at politicians from the presidential to the parochial, from D.C. to Bethesda to Bangor – where Danby has been a cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News since 1986.

A cartoon by George Danby (Photo by: Bangor Daily News) A cartoon by George Danby

From ABSCAM to Obama, Danby’s keen eye and active pen miss very little. Now, with the release of The Essential Danby, political junkies have the opportunity to enjoy his prism on the polity as well as to trace the development of a true political artist.

George Danby in his office at the Bangor Daily News (Photo by: Bangor Daily News) George Danby in his office at the Bangor Daily News

In the book’s foreword, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) describes how he was influenced as a boy by the cartoons of Herblock of The Washington Post. “Herbock’s merciless images of Richard Nixon with hooded eyes, dark stubble, and generally evil demeanor” as King remembers, “often…captured the issue of the day more memorably than any story.”

King continues, “Now, one might jump to the conclusion that as an active Maine politician, I readily agreed to write a glowing foreword for this collection of George’s work in hopes of avoiding his sharp pen at some point in the future – and one would be right. But he is really good,” King writes. “George has an uncanny knack, essential to the cartoonist’s art, of getting to the essence of the matter in a way that’s memorable, accurate, and usually funny (if being the butt of a joke published in the state’s largest daily newspaper is your idea of funny).” Keep the book in a handy place for all the campaigns and daily drama to come.

The Essential Danby, published by Islandport Press, is available (and a great holiday gift for news junkies) here.

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