A Day in the Life of a Financial Counselor

September 29, 2014

Editors note: This week, each department is following the theme of “A Day In The Life Of…”. In order to help people better understand what we do, we want to share a bit of what each day looks like for us. Today is your opportunity to learn a little more about the Center for Financial Resources. Please check back each day to find out about a new department within the LSS family.

“I have so many bills from the hospital, they are piling up. I don’t even open them anymore since I have no way to pay for them.”

“I want to get my own place, but I can barely get by each month with my school loan.”

“I couldn’t take care of everything so I used my credit cards to make ends meet. Now I can’t pay for those either.”

“I am trying to get a fresh start, and I have no clue on what I should do. I need help.”

Everyday someone calls in or comes in with something different, and they areCassie finally ready to make a change. I get calls from individuals who just need a question answered about the apartment they are renting, or someone wanting to meet to see what their budget is, or where their debt is and get pointed in the right direction.

There is no such thing as a typical day as a financial counselor. Whenever somebody comes in their situation is different than anyone else’s, but the most important thing for anyone to remember is that everyone has something that they are working on improving. I have had days where I see a single mother or father raising kids on their own who need help finding assistance and taking care of their debt, I have seen married couples who did not know how far in the hole they were and need a budget to get back on track, someone wanting help looking at their credit report to see what’s out there, the list goes on and on.

When someone leaves my office they are ready to take the next steps to getting their finances in order. They may be starting on our Debt Management Program, consolidating their debt, going through the steps to refinance or modify their home, or just taking each step one at a time and remembering to breath.

In what ever way the day is going it is always filled with helping others, and it is truly something I enjoy. It is not easy for someone to share their situation, but just remember that walking in the door is usually the hardest part for making a change. Speaking for myself and all the other financial counselors out there, we just want to help get things moving in the right direction. So don’t be afraid to come see us!

I see:

  • College students looking at school loan consolidation
  • Single mothers/fathers raising a family on their own and struggling
  • Husbands or wives with a spouse on disability
  • Couples trying to get their budget/debt all figured out
  • Business owners barely breaking even
  • Individuals on the path to recovery from addiction and ready to get finances in order

I help:

  • All of these people alleviate some stress by knowing that they can do with their situation
  • They usually see that it wasn’t as bad as the thought… or even if it is, they have a betterunderstanding of what to do now.
  • Landlord/tenant phone calls
  • Filing bankruptcy and what to do after
  • Calling creditors and collections with the person
  • I help those on our debt management plan get their payments to creditors
  • I help look over Credit Bureau Reports to see what’s been reported

written by Cassandra Prusha
Image courtesy Cassandra Prusha

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Conference: Learning, Leading, Leveraging, and Launching

September 27, 2014

Kadie must have enjoyed my last blog, because she has asked me to guest blog once again!  This time she has asked me to share my experience and thoughts after attending the LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) national conference.

The conference took place on September 2nd – 5th in sunny Tucson, Arizona.  LIRS had representatives from all three of their service networks—Refugee Resettlement, Access to Justice for migrants affected by detention, and Children’s Services—come together to create a network for welcoming migrants and refugees.  I was lucky enough to be invited to go along with Tim Jurgens, our Director, Deb Worth, our Associate Director, Jeff Iverson, our Job Developer, Yussuf Issak, an Employment caseworker, and Deo Rai, a caseworker for older refugees.

Tuesday started quite early—5 am at the airport—and of course I got very little sleep the night before.  A frantic search for a passport at 11:30 at night is not, surprisingly, a great way to get a good night’s sleep.  However, Tuesday went well.  I saw some great views from the plane, like the Grand Canyon and the Great Salt Lake, and we arrived in Tucson to wonderful weather.  It was warm and sunny and there were cacti EVERYWHERE!  Did you know that cacti grow incredibly slowly?  We learned this from our shuttle driver.  A cactus is nearly 100 years old before it will grow any arms.  All the cacti that you see with multiple arms, are really, really old—like a couple hundred years old!

That evening, LIRS had their welcome reception to give everyone a chance to meet.  We played people bingo, where we had to find individuals who fit a certain category and have them sign your paper.  I met some interesting individuals.  I met people from across the country, who worked in different aspects of immigration and refugee resettlement.  I met two ladies, Alex and Lauren, from New York who worked in the detention centers helping find lawyers and working through legal materials.  I met another, Autumn, from Georgia who helps resettle children.  I met Sister Joann from the Chicago area, who once lied down in front of a bus in protest of the detention center’s policy of restricting religious groups from going to the centers to visit and pray with the detainees.  I even met a woman who had a domesticated jungle cat for a pet!

So the next day, the conference officially began.  I won’t share you with every detail about the sessions and the topics but I will tell you about one speaker in particular.  We were lucky enough to hear from Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist.  She wrote Enrique’s Journey, which details the long and grueling journey that many children from Central American are making in search of asylum in the US.  Her story was amazing.  Not only did she talk to Enrique, but she took this journey as well.  She witnessed the gang and cartel violence and desperation that force the children to flee.  She walked through jungles and fields to get to the trains.  She jumped aboard the trains as they were going nearly 45 mph.  She clung onto the sides and back of the train as it would round bends and go through jungles.  She saw individuals fall from the train and lose limbs and lives.    She fought the men that the gangs and drug cartels hire to throw the asylum seekers off the moving trains.  She made it to the border and saw where the children camp, looking for a place to cross into the US.  It was a powerful presentation and taught me so much more about what’s happening at the border with the unaccompanied children.  Working in refugee resettlement, we hear the stories of those coming from overseas.  We don’t always get to hear of those coming from next door, so it was very enlightening for me.

Besides the sessions and speakers, we also made trips to other areas of Tucson.  Wednesday evening, we went and toured LSS of the Southwest’s resettlement office in Tucson.  It was cool to see another resettlement office and how things are run there.  Thursday evening, we had a dinner at a local outdoor nature area.  It was beautiful.  Of course there were hundreds of cacti and other desert plants around.  However, it decided to storm that night.  Now I’m not sure if you know this, but when it rains in the desert…IT POURS!  Everyone tried to hide under a tree or table or any overhang they could find.  Of course when one spot became full, it meant having to find another overhang with room which meant running through the downpour.  Deb and I had originally taken shelter under a tree with the President of LIRS, Linda Hartke.  Eventually, Deb and I left the relative safety of the tree and found an overhang.  We were soaked by that point but had fun talking with those who had been smart enough to find the overhang before it poured.  We also heard a rumor that the shuttle busses were here and as soon as they were full, would return to the hotel.  We took that chance.  Once more, Deb and I braved the downpour to walk back through the trails to find the bus.  Though we were thoroughly soaked by that time, I definitely will not forget it!

In all, I learned so much at the conference.  I got to meet wonderful people from across the US working to help others in need.  I picked up some great information that will hopefully allow me to be a better volunteer coordinator.  And I made some great memories!  But the best part is I learned how thankful I am to work with LSS of South Dakota.  Having seen and talked with others also working in refugee resettlement, I learned how lucky we are to be able to provide the services that we do.  We are lucky that the families have a knowledgeable caseworker to help them navigate the US.  We can help them find housing before they arrive.  We can help them at the Department of Social Services.  We can help them with orientation and finding a job.  Some other sites have to rely solely on volunteers to provide this assistance.  And while volunteers are amazing, I’m glad our volunteers don’t have to deal with the headaches of trying to fill out all the different government forms.  I’m glad our mentors can spend their time with the families getting to know each other and helping the family navigate American culture.  And I’m glad and thankful I get to be a part of all this.

Get involved!  Go to http://www.lsssd.org/family_services/refugee/volunteer.html to become a volunteer!

We seriously need some men.

September 26, 2014

“We seriously need some men” read the first line of an email I received this morning from an elementary school counselor. She went on to describe the needs of boys in her school. Some living with mom, one living with grandparents who (understandably) has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, one who lost his dad to terminal illness…

At LSS 69% of our mentors are female, yet if you took a look at our waiting list, you would see a lot of boys names. In Sioux Falls, we are blessed with a great community, with males doing great things in and for our city. But there are only 352 men who are mentoring in our school district. Those 352 men are AWESOME, but they need some others to join them.

Esquire Magazine has launched an effort to get 100,000 more mentors in the next five years…an incredible goal. In Sioux Falls, we are looking for 500 new mentors, also an incredible goal. In a recent editorial, David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR, wrote about he often is asked about mentoring and is commonly given a list of reasons why people are not able to do it. He gives the same response to every man: “If you show up several times in a row you might be the only man who’s ever done that for the boy you’re mentoring.” I think a lot of the 352 male mentors in Sioux Falls would agree with the accuracy of that statement.

Mentoring is not hard, you don’t need to know a lot about kids (it helps a lot if you like them though), you just need to show up. I got an opportunity to meet with an LSS mentor, Jarid, and his mentee, Jacob this week. Jacob is a great kid – he is on the student council, loves sports and is talkative and smart. His mentor Jarid is a computer programmer, is active at his church, has two elementary aged children of his own, and has been mentoring for three years. They talked about sports, Ninja Turtles and both chuckled when Jacob talked about a football teammate farting at an unfortunate moment. On the surface, nothing extraordinary was going on, but the connection that they shared was real. And when asked if he wanted Jarid to continue to mentor him next year, Jacob said to count on it.

The editorial gave some statistics of what is to come. “In colleges and universities, only 44 percent of undergraduates are boys and that percentage is expected to continue to trend downward. In our country, 20 percent of the people arrested for violent crimes are under the age of 18 and 83 percent of them are boys. Nearly half of black men and almost 40 percent of white men in the U.S. have been arrested by age 23.”

It is important to note that those trends do not happen in other parts of the country. LSS just received funding to work with incarcerated fathers, ages 18-25. We were one of a handful of agencies across the nation to get awarded this work, which speaks to the needs that we have right here.

All of this takes us back to where this post started. We seriously need some men. So, to the men who had someone there for them when they were growing up…someone who took a chance on them or gave them a second chance, please give back. Be there for the next generation of men. Getting started is just a click away.

Make Up Your Mind Already – A Look at Priorities

September 24, 2014

Priorities. We all have them whether we want to admit it or not. Sometimes our priorities are more than admirable and other times there are reasons we don’t want to admit that something is a priority for us. We regularly have to make choices and those choices usually follow a pattern – our priorities.

I’ll admit that I really don’t like driving around town. Road trips I usuallypolice stop really enjoy, but if it is around town I probably have somewhere else to be and other things I could be doing and the other drivers are just holding me up. Argh! And with all of that comes my penchant for going a little over the speed limit. Yes, I’ll admit it – I speed. Not usually more than 5 miles per hour over the limit, but none-the-less over the posted speed limit. Read the rest of this entry »

PREMIER: “Serving others is at the core of who we are”

September 18, 2014

When reading the paper or watching the news, you are more than likely to come across pieces of information related to workforce development. As a community, we are concerned about preparing tomorrow’s professionals and leaving our businesses and organizations in better hands. One way businesses can ensure that they are giving a hand up to the next generation is by allowing their employees to mentor.

“Serving others is at the very core of who we are as an organization and is a large part of why we’ve been successful,” said Meranda Sylliaasen of PREMIER. Read the rest of this entry »

An Airport Arrival: My Story of Welcoming a Refugee

September 15, 2014

September 13th – September 21st is National Welcoming Week hosted by Welcoming America, an organization working to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans.  To celebrate we are sharing a story of welcoming refugees!

So I must tell you that this is my first blog post.  EVER.  Normally Kadie, one of our ESL Instructors, shares amazing stories from the classroom and students each week.  However, for Welcoming Week, she asked me to share my story of welcoming refugees.

To start, I’ll introduce myself.  I am Kristyne, the Volunteer Coordinator at the LSS Center for New Americans.  Some of you may know me from the CFNA Facebook page—I’m the one posting pictures and asking you to like and share everything!  I am relatively new to LSS and refugee resettlement.  I started in April and have learned SO much in the last 5 months.  It has really been wonderful!

My work mostly consists of working with the Sioux Falls community to invite volunteers to help in our ESL classrooms or to mentor a new refugee family.  Sometimes, I don’t get to meet as many of our refugee clients as one of our caseworkers or teachers do.  So when I had the opportunity to go to the airport to pick up a new family, I jumped at the chance!

On the day of their arrival Deborah, one of our caseworkers, had let me know a little about the family in order to prepare me.  The family coming was a family of 8 coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo and they were set to arrive at 10 pm that night.  The parents spoke a little English so we would be able to communicate somewhat with them when they got off the plane.  She also showed me some of the supplies that she had gotten for them—some toothpaste and brushes, diapers, and a culturally appropriate meal—to help ease them through their first night in a new country.

Airport welcome (1)

A family reunion at the airport!

So at 9:30 it was go time!  …Or not.  Their flight had been delayed almost 45 minutes and when they did arrive, they were exhausted.  Usually, by the time a refugee arrives in Sioux Falls, they have spent the last 20 hours or so either on a plane or in an airport waiting for a plane.  So trying to navigate their way out of the terminal and airport, while exhausted, was not easy.  However, this is when the welcoming nature of Sioux Falls showed itself.  Before we even had a chance to get to them, other members of the crowd came forward and tried to help them.  The crowd gave directions on how to get downstairs, where to go to find bags, and one even asked if they needed a taxi called to pick them up!  It was wonderful to see that Midwest hospitality!

We did eventually make it to them and introduced ourselves.  Then we went to the escalator.  For those of you who have been to the Sioux Falls airport, you can understand that the escalator-that-isn’t-really-an-escalator was a difficult concept to teach.  To them, it appeared to be one of the airport security checks, so they started placing their carry-ons and coats on the track before we could explain that it was just a fast way to get downstairs.  They looked quite skeptical as we showed them how to step on and step off.  Once we had conquered the escalator, we got their 2 small suitcases and made our way to the car.  We helped them get in and get buckled (with a short explanation that all babies must be in car seats and not in laps.)  Then we were on our way.

When we got to the motel, we got them checked in and showed them the rooms.  We showed them how to use the shower and bathroom, the small refrigerator, the air conditioner, the TV and even the phone.  The kids were most interested in the cartoons that were on the TV.  The adults also had a 5 minute lesson on how to use the keycards, with the important topic of “never leave the room without your key!”

It was nearly midnight before we said our goodbyes.  We were all pretty tired by that time.  However, as they sat on the beds, the father looked at Deborah and me and said in a quiet voice, “We are very happy now.  We are very tired but we are very happy.  We thank God that we are here now and that you helped us.” I was so touched hearing this that all I could say was, “Well we’re happy you are here, too!”

When I left that night, though I was tired, I felt truly wonderful and it made me appreciate the work we do here even more.  I am grateful that I could help welcome this new family to Sioux Falls and be one of the first persons that they met.  I’m glad that I was able to help them get settled on their first night in their new city.  And I’m happy that after a few weeks I was able to match them up with a mentor family who will visit them regularly to help them adjust to life in Sioux Falls!

If you are interested in welcoming a new refugee family to Sioux Falls, sign up to be a mentor at http://www.lsssd.org/family_services/refugee/volunteer.html or call 605-731-2000!

Wealthy is Healthy… Literally

September 12, 2014

That’s right, I’ll say it – wealthy is healthy. Speaking to physical health, the numbers simply don’t lie. Those with more money are physically healthier than those struggling to make ends meet each month. With poorer overall health, health care events and consequential costs usually go up; meaning more debt for those that already can’t afford it. In reality, there are more reasons that just health care that the wealthy are more healthy. Stay tuned to find out a few reasons why as well as tips to overcome some of the barriers. Read the rest of this entry »

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