Putting fun in financial health awareness

While a DJ and dancing, free tax help, financial resources, and pizza and prizes aren't things you would usually find all under one roof, Show Me the Money Day combines them all, resulting in a unique and valuable event that benefits The Capital region and other communities across Michigan.

In 2011, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) worked with their Flint partner to create an event that would help people achieve a sense of financial empowerment. The event kicks off tax season and provides communities with access to financial education, workshops, vendors, and free tax assistance. It helps people to improve their financial situation, in turn helping their community.

Show Me the Money Day kicked off for the first time in Lansing and Flint, with steady growth every year after that. This year, 11 communities in Michigan hosted their own Show Me the Money Day, with the wrap up event taking place in Lansing on Feb. 15. Each community that hosts has their own committee in charge of putting on the event, but CEDAM assists those communities by providing valuable resources such as technical support (website hosting), communication about the event, graphic design and more.  Lansing's event was hosted by multiple associations including; Asset Independence Coalition, the City of Lansing, Ingham County, and CEDAM.

"We want it to be engaging, and we don't want people to feel intimidated," Megan Kursik of CEDAM says, "We want to build a movement."

To build that movement, it helps if your event stands out. When you first walk into Show Me the Money Day, it may seem like your typical, educational event. There are local vendors gathered, handing out information on their institutions, and workshops taking place helping people to solve their unanswered questions. But it doesn’t take long to notice some of the things that make this particular event different. There's music, there's dancing, scream contests, and prizes and pizza. And while these are things you may associate more with a festival than financial education, these are exactly the things that make Show Me the Money Day so unique.

Making Finances Fun

So, why have these things at a financial event?

"Well, why not?" says Marcus McKissic who MC'd the event, "If you're going to talk to someone about your finances, you might as well have fun."  McKissic understands that people coming to these events are opening up about their situations and exposing themselves to some extent so it's important to create the right atmosphere. "We want them to leave and say 'I had a good time.'"

And it's hard not to have a good time when there are prizes being handed out and spontaneous dance parties. The radio station, Power 96.5, provided the tunes, helped give away the prizes and also led everyone out on to the dance floor to "wobble." One attendee even won two, one hundred dollar gift cards and another won a laptop (the prizes were generously provided by First Merit Bank and Consumer's Energy). The winner of the two gift cards, Melissa Ryan, says she came for the financial workshops and since attending has come a long way from just walking in to a realtor's office and thinking she was going to get a loan. "I really appreciate all the people and the resources."

The combination of serious education and fun is great for not only the attendees but also the vendors. Lovell Bland, Senior Account Executive at Power 96.5, sees the value in being associated and assisting with an event like this, "People tend to think of radio stations as a party," Bland says, "But you can't go through life like that, we all have financial responsibilities, it's just great to lighten them up."

"People can get hindered," adds DJ Kirby Gwen, "and be afraid to take the first steps. A relaxed event like this helps people not be afraid."

Help and Hope

Just before the "wobbling" began, Mayor Virg Bernero gave a small press conference and shared his support for the event, stating that it was easy to say yes to requests relating to the event.  He helped hand out prizes and even joined in on the "wobble."

"I see people getting help, getting hope," he said, stressing the importance of being financially healthy, "If the financial health of the residents is strong, the city will be strong."

To support residents in reaching financial health the Asset Independence Coalition (AIC) in addition to hosting the event, also provided the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance services (VITA). Through the VITA Super Centers that will be open through tax season, residents can; get their taxes prepared for free (those that make less than $53,000 a year), sign up for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act's Marketplace and receive a number of assistant related services.  These are services that will give residents the confidence to take control of their finances and according to Mayor Bernero, "When people get a hold of their finances they get a hold of their future…that's real hope, that's real change."

VITA is obviously vital and their services effective when it comes to helping the community; last year they gave 3.3 million in refunds and for every dollar that was refunded, $1.67 was generated in the local economy. And the laid back atmosphere of the event definitely contributes to this success; "It's not easy to come on a Saturday morning and deal with financial problems," says Tiffany Limiuex-McKissic, Director of AIC, "We want people to feel comfortable."  According to McKissic, the event introduces the community to all the resources available to them in the financial realm.

A Team Effort

Providing the resources and tools to gain financial empowerment is what the day is all about, but these resources couldn't be provided without the help of many sponsors and contributors. One of the biggest contributors is Consumer's Energy; they provide the funding that allows each community to hold their own events and provide tax services, and also support the 211 help line, a one stop resource if you have a social need.  "We're always looking for opportunities for assistance," says Chris Thelen, Area Manager at Consumer's, "This event helps people find out what works best for their individual situation."

The day also wouldn't be possible without the title sponsor PNC Bank, media sponsors Comerica Bank and Lake Trust Credit Union, and of course the food sponsors, MSU Federal Credit Union, Flagstar Bank and Domino's Pizza.
Volunteers also play a major role in the events success as none of the tax preparers get paid for what they do. "They do it because they love their community," says McKissic.

Jason Hanflik is one of those volunteers and he does it for the satisfaction of helping his neighbors understand something new. Through the program, Hanflik had the opportunity to help a gentleman that didn't speak much English and didn't understand anything about his taxes. By the end of the hour Hanflik says, "He understood everything and had a big smile across his face. It made it worth it."

In the end though, the event couldn't be successful without those that attend it, those that decide to take a step towards financial empowerment. Megan Kursik of CEDAM and Tiffany McKissic both made sure to thank those that attended and Mayor Bernero stressed how gratifying it was to see the community taking these steps.

Between the sponsors, the hosts and the attendees, Lansing has become the frontrunner for financial empowerment and is using events like Show Me the Money Day to continue to push Michigan forward. 
 
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Allison Monroe is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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