There were some months when Maria and Daryl barely had enough money to pay the rent on the quadruplex where they lived with their three children.
They were living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get the entire family to and from home, school, work and doctors’ appointments on public transportation.
“You never know the comfort of washing clothes at home compared to piling up all your clothes and loading the whole family onto the bus to go to the laundry mat,” Daryl said.
When an unexpected expense came up, they had no savings to fall back on. Owning a car and a house of their own seemed like luxuries of some faraway, unattainable dream.
“We didn’t have any savings, and we didn’t have credit cards,” Maria said. “We were really broke. He didn’t have any credit, and I didn’t have a good credit score.”
Daryl works as a cook, and Maria works as a gate clerk/freight inspector for the railroad. Still, they never seemed to have enough money to make ends meet. After struggling financially through Maria’s pregnancies, the couple was ready to make a positive change in their situation. They just weren’t sure how.
“When you’re in the position we were in, you’re frustrated,” Daryl said. “You don’t know where you’re going financially – you don’t know how to get out of that slump. You know you want to get out of it, you just don’t know how. You have so many questions, you just don’t know the right person to talk to or you don’t feel comfortable talking.”
So when Maria heard about a financial coaching program being offered to Head Start families at the SouthSide Early Childhood Center in south St. Louis, she was eager to take part. Daryl admits that at first, he was skeptical. However, he quickly realized Maria was learning invaluable information from her mentor. Based on skills and tools Maria learned in the program, the couple learned about the importance of good credit and how and why to save. They were given real-world tools to help them attain their financial goals, including how to set up bank accounts, manage their credit, and eliminate debt.
“They taught us about monitoring our spending, which at first was more difficult for me,” Daryl said.
Their experience was so impactful that the couple jumped at the chance to get involved in a new program being offered at SouthSide – the ASSET Program for Head Start families.
The ASSET Program for Head Start families provides financial education and matched savings for low-income, working families. With the aid of a financial coach, participants are able to overcome obstacles by developing a banking relationship, setting goals, creating a savings behavior and addressing issues such as past debts that prevent financial stability.
Since completing their own financial coaching program, Maria and Daryl have been able to achieve some of their financial goals.
“I’m always budgeting my bills, and we have credit cards,” Maria said. “We went from living in a quadruplex to a house. We have a vehicle and are working on another one.”
These achievements mean so much to the couple that Maria and Daryl became mentors in the ASSET Program so they can help others.
“We wanted to see if there was a way we could reach out to other families,” Maria said.
As mentors in the five-week ASSET Program, Maria and Daryl offer real-life wisdom and guidance to their peers.
“They speak with some of the other parents to tell them how beneficial it is,” said Krysta Grangeno family partnership manager at SouthSide. “They’ve been good about developing relationships with other parents at the center and providing them with any other types of support they might need.”
The first session of the ASSET Program at SouthSide graduated all 23 parents who enrolled – a significant success rate when most other weeks-long programs graduate 10 or less.
Grangeno, who teaches the classes, credits Maria and Daryl with much of the program’s success.
“It’s always easier when you see somebody that looks like you,” Grangeno said. “It peaks people’s interest to say, ‘look at me, I’ve been through it too.’ We put a lot of committed parents through the program.”
In Maria’s class, there were mostly women. With Daryl as a mentor, there are now more couples in the class – a fact he is a proud of.
“When you can relate to a person and feel more comfortable, it’s easier for them to receive what they’re saying,” Daryl said. “We were able to reach out to the other parents, and we were able to relate.”
Beyond the ASSET Program, Daryl and Maria have reached out to friends and family members to share their knowledge, hoping to share the gift they’ve been given with others.
“I feel like it’s always rewarding when you can pass on knowledge to somebody else, when you can help someone improve themselves,” Daryl said.