We learned about this congregation’s stewardship education work through the Green Sanctuary Program application process (we do live in an interconnected web of life) and thought that it might be interesting and inspiring for other congregations.

Guest Author, David Cohen,Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist,
Social Action Committee

Making the Most of Our Money is a 9-session money management class aimed at low-income, food pantry and general assistance residents in the Northwest Suburbs. The program is sponsored by and held at Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist (“CCUU”) in Palatine Illinois.

At the summer 2007 leadership retreat for CCUU, the congregation voted for a long-term social action project to turn our church covenant of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person into action. Palatine Township caseworkers requested that we provide money management classes to the low-income recipients of the food pantry and the township’s general assistance clients.

We started with a curriculum called All My Money from the University of Illinois Extension Service. Eight persons and 3 Palatine Township caseworkers attended the training and received the teaching certification.

Our first pilot program was held in the summer of 2008 and ran for 8 Wednesday nights led by two co-teachers. Eight families from the Palatine Food Pantry encompassing 10 adults and 11 children participated in the pilot program. The eight sessions covered making spending choices, planning your spending, understanding credit, handling credit problems, building consumer skills, taking consumer action, and several approaches to building and maintaining a budget. A caseworker from Palatine Township attended each session.

Each client was paired with a specific mentor who worked with the client for all 8 sessions. The pairing of a mentor with each client was our innovation to the All My Money curriculum. Having a mentor assigned to each family was a great success and continues to be an integral part of our program. The mentor and client act together as a team to find the best way to improve the family’s money management skills. The mentor makes sure that the family receives individual help during each class to tailor what was covered as a large group to the family’s specific situation.

We also run a complete children’s program (not babysitting) concurrently with the adult program for the participants’ children. The children’s program teaches literacy skills and age-appropriate money management skills.

After the first pilot program, we extensively modified and added materials to make it more effective for our clients.  We greatly expanded the focus on developing budgeting tools, added units on saving and making money, and brought in guest speakers with expertise in credit, banking and bankruptcy. We renamed our program “Making the Most of Our Money”(MMOM) in recognition of the extent of the curriculum modifications, our innovation of pairing mentors with clients, and our children’s program. The number of classes were extended from 8 to 9 classes in order to allow more time for our budgeting focus.  We also developed and implemented training for all mentors.

The first MMOM class began April, 2009. MMOM begins with teacher-led large-group instruction followed by one-on-one activities with an assigned mentor to reinforce the concepts and assist the clients. Teachers are available for questions and assistance.

MMOM is open to all residents in the Northwest Suburbs. We request potential clients be recommended by an agency, social worker, church minister, rabbi, etc. The program is free. We have found that the best clients are those whose incomes are approximately 50% of the poverty level of the area. Most have been employed or are actively seeking work. They may have had some financial setbacks or may be living beyond their means.

Volunteers fill every position in the program. It takes approximately 25 persons to run each 9-week session with over 15 of the volunteers attending every class.

In April 2009, MMOM received the Palatine Township Service Award for Outstanding Community Service.

For questions email: information at  mostmoney dot org

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