Eunice Walker, at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte, used to be intimidated by finances. Photo by Travis Dove

Eunice Walker learned about financial issues during workshops at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte. Photo by Travis Dove

By Sue Price Johnson

Eunice Walker was intimidated by financial issues before she took four AARP Financial Freedom workshops at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte, where her son-in-law is the pastor. That’s not the case now.

“At 81 years of age, I decided I’m going to work through this. What have I got to lose?” she said. “Perhaps I can help my grandchildren and some younger people understand that this is no big mystery; it’s just practical understanding of what’s going on, the dynamics of it. I wanted to educate myself even though my years of investing are limited now.”

She gained confidence by attending the free workshops, led by certified financial planners, in a program that AARP launched in 2009 in response to the economic downturn.

The program educates people 50 and older about finances. Key topics include reducing debt, cutting costs, and learning the basics of budgeting and investing.

Because the downturn has been especially difficult for African Americans, they have been the initial focus of the initiative in North Carolina. Debra Tyler-Horton, who leads AARP’s multicultural efforts in the state, said the workshops were developed as a way to partner with the African American faith community.

Walker and many others who attended the workshops in the AARP Financial Freedom initiative are meeting one-on-one with professional financial advisers this summer. These free sessions give participants more in-depth information specific to their own needs.

The success of the initial round of workshops at five churches in Charlotte, Raleigh and Gastonia encouraged AARP to expand the initiative in North Carolina, including some programs that reach younger generations, along with the primary target group of older people.

Pastors get involved
AARP North Carolina is partnering with the Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh for an October conference to outline the Financial Freedom initiative for pastors and others interested in the program.

“The hope is that the pastors in the divinity school will want to take what they learn to their congregations,” Tyler-Horton said. From there, AARP would work with the interested churches on another series of workshops.

In addition, AARP North Carolina is organizing a financial literacy event Aug. 11-12 at Winston-Salem State University that will have activities for students and parents.

A few years ago, Walker and her husband lost their home in Charlotte due to foreclosure, which she blames on her lack of knowledge about variable-rate mortgages.

“Had I been smarter, I never would have gone for that, but they just took advantage of our ignorance, and that really made me angry,” she said.

Retirement planning was the incentive for John Gordon, 57, of Charlotte, who also took part in the Mount Carmel workshops.

“There are some decisions I have to make regarding rollover income, pension plan and a 401(k), and I wanted to get some additional information about making an informed decision,” Gordon said. “This information helped me research what I need to do further as far as when I start making withdrawals from my pension plan.”

The real estate market crash left Vinita LaVerne Lane, 70, of Raleigh owing more on her mortgage than her home is now worth. She attended workshops at Poplar Springs Christian Church in Raleigh and is following up through the summer to learn more about refinancing her upside-down mortgage.

Thanks to the workshops, she now pays more attention to her budget. “I pretty much know where my money is going, and I can redirect it now, causing me to look at money much more seriously,” she said.

To learn more about the AARP Financial Freedom initiative, visit aarp.org/financialfreedom, which has tips on ways to save and reduce debt. If you’re interested in attending one of the events, contact Debra Tyler-Horton at dtylerhorton@aarp.org.
Sue Price Johnson is a writer living in Raleigh.