West End Neighborhood House


$tand by Me offers free financial advice and coaching!

Personal trainers help you shed the flab and life coaches help you get a grip.

But Delawareans now can get financial coaches for personal money management help — free.

Terry Casson-Ferguson, 55, a parent-resource coach who lives near Wilmington, was skeptical: “I didn’t want anybody to tell me how to spend my money.”

But she became one of the first clients of the new state-sponsored service for one simple reason. “I got tired of living from paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Today, Gov. Jack Markell and United Way of Delaware President and Chief Executive Officer Michelle Taylor do the honors of officially opening the new $tand By Me Financial Empowerment Center — yes, it’s spelled with a dollar sign — at 11 a.m. at Hudson State Service Center, 501 Ogletown Road (Del. 273) in Newark.

The services are “all about helping people fulfill their financial potential,” Markell said.

The Concord High School Choir will be there to perform the center’s namesake theme tune, “Stand By Me,” by Ben E. King. The state even got permission to use the song’s copyrighted title for what is planned to be a statewide network of centers at service centers, schools, libraries and other sites.

The idea is that Delawareans, especially those struggling to get by, can work directly with experts to gain a realistic understanding of their financial situations and develop achievable goals to boost their fiscal futures.

Residents can get free, nonjudgmental help with debt-reduction, budgeting, saving, college planning, credit and other issues. Each center is to have a site manager, assistant manager, coaches and a cadre of volunteers and topic experts.

The service may be most helpful to those pulling themselves out of poverty, but anyone can use it, Markell said, and each resident’s financial improvement makes his or her community more stable, strong and safe.

Casson-Ferguson, who joined the program early at West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington, said the coaching has helped her reach a big goal. She finally has started to save money.

State officials call the program ground-breaking but with a proven model. “This is something that builds on work I’ve done for 10 or 12 years now, starting as treasurer,” said Markell, who has gotten many awards for his financial education efforts.

$tand By Me was developed with help from Mary Dupont, a pioneer who became a national expert on public financial services with nonprofit Nehemiah Gateway Community Development Corp., he said, adding, “it’s a low-cost partnership model.”

The program has raised more than $375,000, most from United Way and the rest in donations from Wilmington, businesses and foundations. The state, giving staff time and center sites, also worked with University of Delaware to develop “The Personal Financial Coaching Class,” a six-hour basic training for volunteers. The program also will use online training from the National Community Tax Coalition.

The new Delaware Financial Empowerment Partnership includes the state, its Department of Health and Social Services that has the service centers, and United Way, with a growing base of nonprofit agencies — including West End, administering the first program — and banks giving clients accounts and other help.

Clients also can get referrals to existing community programs such as tax preparation and first-time home ownership education.

Barbara Reed, managing the new office as West End director of housing and financial management, said her agency is dedicated to helping families to self-sufficiency, adding, “We’re more than excited about $tand By Me.”

Volunteer coaches are being recruited by the program and GetInvolved, a partnership of The News Journal Media Group, United Way and area nonprofits.