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The Power of a Hand-Up

  AmeriCorps VISTA Betsy Sorensen talks about the fantastic work she is doing with the Primavera Foundation to promote financial literacy and provide a hand-up to their clients. 


AmeriCorps VISTA Betsy Sorensen talks about the fantastic work she is doing with the Primavera Foundation to promote financial literacy and provide a hand-up to their clients. 

On Monday morning, I wake up bright and early to start my day off right. I drink my cup of tea, eat some breakfast and then it’s off to the Primavera Foundation to teach my Monday morning Financial Education class to the men staying at the Primavera Men’s Shelter. I make the coffee, set out some breakfast for the men, turn on my projector and get ready to start my day. Packets of information are set out on the table, my second cup of tea in hand and I am greeting my new partners in learning for the day ahead. All my new students sit down and grab their coffee and breakfast. They thank me about a million times (ok, maybe not that much but it does seem like a lot) for the “real” coffee and are busy looking through their papers. Some slouch back, some are on their phones and some are giving me a skeptical look, what is this white, tall blond chick standing in front of our class for? Thoughts race through their heads.

I explain my title and what the Home Ownership Department does, and what it can do for them if they need any financial counseling. Some look interested and some look like they are about to fall asleep. What comes next though, is one of the best parts of my morning: the introductions. “Hello all, my name is Betsy, like I mentioned before, and I am here to teach you all the wonderful things surrounding financial education, and my future financial goal is to pay off my student loans.” Some of guys nod in agreement, some smirk or laugh a little realizing how young I really am. I then ask each of them to go around the room and state their name, why they are here and if they have a future financial goal. A lot of them say they are only here because they have to take the class, some say they need to pay off debts, to get off the streets or to find a job and start contributing to their family’s income. My favorite reply that reminds me of why I do what I do, the philosophy that I have tried to live by my whole life was the response of one of my students who had said that he was taking this class because he was looking for a hand-up not a handout.

All throughout the nonprofit world, many organizations have tried and tried again to help “the poor” and “the homeless” to the point where they give them a handout and the success rate of “bounce-back” drops dramatically. We have seen this in developing countries throughout the world, “[insert organization here] travels to third world country only to fail and cause more harm than good.” Handouts have never been successful for neither the handee nor the hander. Changing the perspective and stereotypes we have about those in need will dramatically change the actions that take place within our society and aid-giving organizations. Do not get me wrong, some organizations have those resources and should be giving direct aid to those in need but this is a Band-Aid, a temporary solution to a massive problem whose origin is deeper.

The financial education course that I teach every morning, from 9am to 11:45am for the men staying at the men’s shelter, is meant to be a hand-up. We provide them with the necessary information that, if they chose to do so, could help them turn their lives around. These men do not need a scolding, or a lesson on where they went wrong. They do not need someone talking down to them or telling them that they do not know anything and that’s why they ended up on the streets. What I teach is information that helps strengthen and empower these men to get their feet on the ground and to start walking in the right direction, wherever that is for them. The lessons I teach are for their benefit but no one is force feeding them the information, they will understand and take with them the information they found necessary for their lives. All I can hope for is that I have made a positive difference in their lives; the rest is in their hands. 

Published on November 03, 2015 by Spencer Brown.

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