When Arlene McGuinness was referred to Catholic Charities’ financial coach, she expected to meet with someone who would help her make a budget. But her weekly meetings with Elishia Townsend ended up providing her with much more.
“She helped me move forward,” McGuinness said. “It opened up the vision I had closed myself off from. And while she might direct you to try to this or that, the actual thoughts are really your own.”
As McGuinness and Townsend explain it, financial coaching is different from both traditional counseling and from and from financial education. It’s about helping individuals identify for themselves what their values are and then set goals that align with those values.
When McGuinness started her weekly meetings with Townsend in March, she was in a low place. She had suffered for nearly two decades from lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease. Symptoms include flare-ups of fatigue, pain, fever and anxiety. She didn’t receive an official diagnosis until the summer of 2015.
That same summer she was caring for family members experiencing their own crises, and she learned that in one year she would lose her primary source of income. Her health had prevented her from working for years. Without this income, she was in danger of losing everything.
She became depressed and earlier this year she called Catholic Charities for help with her looming financial crisis. The agency referred her to Townsend.
“Every week she would sum up at the end of our time together things that I said and would throw the questions back at me: ‘What do you think you’re going to do this week with a certain thing we talked about?’ It put me in a position where I had to think, and then also be accountable to her,” McGuinness said.
“She was really pushing me through my fears, all toward our goal of creating a source of income,” she said.
While McGuinness’ health prevented her from working a typical job, through her meetings with Townsend she began to see how her skills and even pastimes could be turned into potential income. She found the courage to bring some of her hand-crocheted baby blankets to a baby boutique where they can be sold. She’s working on compiling her writings into a book. Most importantly, she has left her crippling depression behind and broadened her mind to other possibilities for securing her financial future.
“Most people either don’t have the time or space to talk about what’s important to them or they don’t have anyone to listen. It makes a difference to have what you say repeated,” Townsend explains. “For better or worse, your life revolves around your finances. So financial coaching extends into every area of your life.”
For McGuinness, a parishioner at Our Lady of Peace in Williamstown, this meant connecting with her faith.
“It’s amazing how Elishia can bring together what I’ve said to her in a session and show me the spiritual aspect of where God was, or I come to it myself through talking to her,” McGuinness said.
“I stay where people are,” Townsend said. “If a person continuously references God as their source of strength when they get stuck or are finding things to be a real challenge, I point them back to God. I intently listen to what is said during our session and I direct that person back to that well of strength or positive motivating force that puts them into motion toward achieving their goals.”
Financial Coaching is an initiative of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Armed Forces Services Corporation. Catholic Charities was one of 20 nonprofits selected from applicants nationwide as a host agency for the program. Townsend received her training in financial coaching through the CFPB and her services are available free of charge to the community.
By becoming empowered in their own decision-making and goal-setting, Townsend says, individuals lay the foundations for a healthy financial future.
To schedule an appointment with financial coach Elishia Townsend, call 856-342-4067 or email Elishia.Townsend@CamdenDiocese.org. To learn more about Financial Coaching at Catholic Charities visit CatholicCharitiesCamden.org/FinancialCoach.