Living Out JIFFI’s Mission: An Associate’s First Client Meetings
By Aaron Bode ’17
Before talking about my experience with a client, I should first give a disclaimer: my personal finances have never been… how should I phrase this… “orderly.” My parents tell stories of me wasting my small allowance as a child the day I would receive it, completely and utterly ignoring the important practice of saving. Even as I entered college, the most I could do in terms of finances was fathom the looming tuition bill I would be generating. It’s a miracle JIFFI overlooked my naivety and ignorance when they hired me as an associate in the fall.
With a bit of fortune, however, I was indeed hired, and after a day-long introduction to the organization, I was ready to experience the ways JIFFI was making a difference in South Bend and in the lives of its clients. Five days after officially becoming an associate, I joined a senior associate on a client meeting. I expected to be on the sidelines, but as the meeting progressed, I found myself entering the discussion. Our client, “Golden Wine” (clients are given “nicknames” to protect their privacy) had taken many steps to try to improve their financial situation, and I was impressed by their discipline and mettle. When we tracked their expenses and income, it was incredible to see how much even a single dollar meant to their budget, and I realized how much determination was required from them to combat poverty. Golden Wine was not asking for a large loan — only enough to help with transportation costs for a week — and we were able to make the loan that day.
Our client-associate relationship continued over the next couple of months, as we met three additional times to begin the Financial Empowerment division’s FEP modules. Together, Golden Wine, myself, and other JIFFI members discussed avoiding other payday lenders, debt forgiveness strategies/opportunities, improving employment options, and short-term and long-term goal setting. I was surprised by how relevant and important these discussions were; our module meetings were far from “talks” in which meaningless verbiage dominates what is being said. Instead, I found myself invested in listening to and advising Golden Wine, and together we tackled their financial issues. I realized that my love of math and economics could have real-world impacts, and combined with Golden Wine’s openness and input in our discussions, we began to formulate goals and plans of action for the future. I even began to recognize where I could be more disciplined in my own finances.
My experience working with Golden Wine certainly provided a window into the challenges of poverty, but it also opened up hope and desire in me. Rather than feeling discouraged, my meetings spurred me to see how JIFFI could concretely assist Golden Wine and our other clients. Throughout the process, I never once felt that poverty was defeating Golden Wine, and today that same resilience encourages me to work out JIFFI’s mission with determination and vision towards the future.