Versant Volunteers: Spotlight on Erin Itkoe

Volunteer Organization:  Fresh Start Women’s Foundation. 

What is the purpose of the organization for which you volunteer?
Fresh Start Women’s Foundation is all about women helping women. Its mission is to provide education, resources, and support for women who may be divorced, separated, unemployed, or simply looking for a new start on life. The goal is to help them positively transform their lives and in turn strengthen our community.

When did you start your adventure with volunteering?
I began volunteering with Fresh Start in 2016. Since then, I have led numerous Financial Planning 101 sessions. I was introduced to this opportunity through other women advisors in the Financial Planning Association. We offer the course monthly and rotate who leads the course.

What duties do you perform to aid the organization?
Currently, I am one of the lead facilitators for the Financial Planning 101 course. The course covers a variety of personal finance topics, including budgeting, debt management, retirement planning, estate planning, insurance planning, etc. The goal is to help the women better understand how each of these topics work together and effect each other, so they can begin to lay the groundwork for a solid financial future. We try to teach them easy steps and skills that they can incorporate into their daily lives.

Why is such an organization needed in the community?
To help every woman reach her full potential! To do so, she needs to achieve personal empowerment and become financially self-sufficient.

What are your reasons for volunteering?
I wanted to use my knowledge of personal finance to help empower other women. I hope to teach them the skills to become financially self-sufficient. This lifts a huge weight off their shoulders, which gives them a stronger chance of reaching their full potential. I hope that the women I work with are then able to pass these skills down to their children, which sets them on a better financial path.

Which volunteering undertaking do you remember best? Did any of them bring you extraordinary emotions? Or rooted deeply in your memory?
Each course I’ve led has been a special experience. I’ve been able to touch so many women’s lives and that is very meaningful to me. In several sessions, there have been one or two women that haven’t seemed that interested. Then, I will reach a topic that piques their interest due to their personal situation. It is so rewarding to see the light bulb go off and their engagement level increase. A few times they’ve commented to me how helpful the course was. They didn’t think it would be worthwhile, but they actually learned so much and now feel so much more empowered.

What challenges do volunteers in your organization face?
The most difficult part was creating a curriculum/presentation that covered all of the areas of personal finance in a limited timeframe. Each session is only a few hours, which doesn’t allow us to get into much detail on each area. It’s important to cover all of the areas and leave time for questions and commentary. We want the presentation to be engaging and a great resource for the women after the course.

What rewards do you receive from your volunteer work?
Making a difference in other women’s lives. I most enjoy when I lead a course with only a few women participating in it. I’m then able to spend more time helping everyone with specific questions/concerns. I’ve seen women come to tears so many times when they can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been able to help them put some steps in place, so that they can become financially self-sufficient. And I often leave feeling so fortunate that I acquired these skills early on.

What has volunteer work helped you learn about yourself?
This specific volunteer work has reminded me why I entered this field. I wanted to become a financial planner to help others lay the groundwork for a solid financial future. It’s been personally rewarding to see other women light up when they realize just a few simple steps/changes can put them back on a better financial path, which has a direct impact on their entire future. I love what I do, and this lets me use my knowledge and skills to help educate and empower other women.

Could you give a piece of advice to people hesitating whether to undertake volunteering?
Begin small and in an area that you’re interested in. If it’s an area that you’re passionate about, you’re more likely to stay engaged and find other ways to get involved. You don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to get started. Every little bit helps and makes a difference in someone’s life.

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