CGF Financial Coaching Fellow Jerome Thompson grew up in a family that practiced what he likes to call “Survival Finance,” by which he means that financial issues were dealt with on an emergency basis. As a result, debts piled up to the point that, as he half-jokingly asserts, caller ID was a godsend to his parents because it allowed them to screen the calls of creditors. Lacking a bank account and plan for building savings, the family was always on the brink, and Jerome had no role model for how to manage money.
One day, while riding the bus to work, Jerome struck up a conversation with CGF’s first Head Financial Coach, Jon Erickson. Having already heard about our work, Jerome was intrigued by the opportunity to become a Coaching Fellow: intrigued, but daunted by how little he knew coming in.
When Jerome started the Fellowship in September of 2012 he was part of the 2nd cohort of Coaches. After receiving three weeks of intensive training, during which he was exposed to information that he quickly began to apply to his own life, he served his first low-income family. Now, a year later, Jerome has served 12 clients, completed 25 free tax returns through the IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program and mastered our Coaching curriculum. He has also seen us grow from a small organization with only 4 employees and a handful of Coaches, to a rapidly growing non-profit with 12 employees and over 20 Fellows.
“Money is deeply connected to psychology,” Jerome said to me during our interview. “A lot of financial issues are rooted in the environment in which people grew up. If you aren’t given a positive example, it’s easy to fall into the same traps. What I experienced is true of many people in my community.” Leveraging his own experience, he often tells his clients to scrutinize offers they get: “It costs more to be poor,” he says, but an understanding of the system and one’s own motivations can lower that cost.
“One of my favorite clients,” he proudly notes, “Was able to consolidate debt from an interest rate of over 20% to 8% thanks to our sessions. Now she has extra money to build savings and meet her and her family’s long-term goals.” So what’s next for Jerome? “Thanks to the network to which CGF introduced me, I am now training to be an agent with New York Life. I also plan to continue helping CGF as a Coach and a tax preparer. I believe that income inequality is the civil rights issue of our time, and I want to do anything I can to further CGF’s mission of empowering families to move forward.”