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Extension seeks volunteer instructors

Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Karen Poff, left, shares information about the Financial Education Program with members of the steering committee, from left, Kerry Keihn, Jorge Gutierrez, Tom Sollenberger, Karen Nathan, Walt Morgan and Keith Maskell. Courtesy photo (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor

The Virginia Cooperative Extension is seeking volunteer financial education instructors.

The Financial Education Program will guide Shenandoah County residents into becoming leaders in money management and planning, said Karen Poff, extension agent in the Northern Shenandoah Valley region.

She said the goal is to expand the program to Clarke, Frederick, Page and Warren counties over the next three years,

"It's a volunteer-based program, so instead of me being the only one that can teach classes and do programs, we train volunteers and they receive 30 hours of training and then they pay back at least 50 hours of volunteer time to the program," she said.

The program is based on one that the cooperative extension offered until the mid-1990s but had to discontinue after experiencing staff reductions.

Classes will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, beginning next week.

"Extension's purpose is we take information from land grant universities and bring it to the people," said Poff, an extension agent for the last 25 years who has specialized in financial education for the last five years.

"With one person working in five counties, we can't meet the demand, can't provide as much as people need," she said. "So we're going back to what we did 20 years ago and train volunteers to help teach people money management skills."

The program will offer classes, individual or family financial mentoring, and customized programs in larger group settings and public speaking opportunities.

"We can do lots of different things as we recruit mentoring volunteers," she said. "Mainly we're just trying to get people to call."

Separated into nine three-hour sessions plus homework, the training includes assignments on starting a personal or family budget if participants don't already have one, and ordering credit reports, which Poff said help volunteers as well.

Teaching, speaking and mentoring schedules are flexible, and previous experience with financial education is not necessary.

"Once the three years are over and we have the program going in all five counties, then I should be able to continue to manage it," Poff said. "Ideally, eventually we would have volunteers in each county coordinating the volunteers in their county."

Poff said the cooperative extension was able to start training due to volunteers from the AmeriCorps VISTA program, which, according to the site, www.nationalservice.gov, provides full-time members to nonprofit, faith-based or other community organizations and public agencies to create and expand programs.

Sponsorships will help the cooperative extension pay a stipend to the VISTA volunteer, with a donation of $650 earning the sponsoring organization placement on program materials. So far Farmers & Merchants Bank and MidAtlantic Farm Credit have sponsored the program.

"We've never had a problem with getting people to come to classes," Poff said, "but we're not getting people who are interested in the mentoring yet."

"The unique part of it is that the more volunteers we have, the more programming we can offer, the more education we can offer to the community."

For more information, email Poff at kpoff@vt.edu or call the Shenandoah County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension at 540-459-6140. The office is located at 600 N. Main St., Woodstock.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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