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Lori Flaherty came to Compass as a participant in the One Family Scholars program run by One Family, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Boston. The program provides financial support and individualized college, career, and financial coaching to single parents experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are pursuing a college degree as their best pathway out of poverty. As part of the Scholars program, Lori was able to also spend a year working with a financial coach at Compass.

Lori is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with plans to pursue a master’s degree. She also works part time as a substitute teacher and nanny, and is raising two children – a son, Keegan, who is 11, and a daughter, Vivian, who is 5. With the support of the One Family Scholars program, she is aiming to be able to finish her degree without taking on any debt. The program scholarship is designed to offset both the direct costs of college, such as tuition and fees, as well as indirect costs like books, supplies, and living expenses.

Lori credits the coaching she received at Compass with helping her to navigate what she described as an overwhelming amount of debt, and to set a path toward her financial goals – which include paying down her credit card debt and past student loans, building savings, and one day being able to own her own home.

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For Lori, having the support of a financial coach helped make her big goals feel attainable. It was also really important to her that she never felt judged by her coach. “When you are in financial disarray it can be embarrassing,” Lori shared, “but I didn’t feel like someone was judging my position. This made it so that I could be more honest about my situation.” Lori says her coach helped her move past feeling helpless or overwhelmed by her debt, by breaking it down piece by piece and focusing on knocking off one thing at a time. “My coach showed me to stay focused and set small goals. I had to remind myself it wouldn’t happen overnight but that over time the changes would snowball into something.”

Much of what Lori learned with her coach she has now started passing onto her son. “I don’t want my son to worry about money, but I do want him to be aware that things don’t fall from the sky,” Lori says. “We talk about saving, about what can happen if you spend frivolously, and how to pare things down and focus on what’s most important to you. I tell him that it’s about loving your future self enough to make the right choices right now.”

As Lori continues to work toward her goals, she has already noticed some big changes from before she started working with her coach. For a lot of families with low incomes, debt often begins to pile up when unexpected expenses pop up and families have to make decisions about what to cover when their income can only go so far. With some savings tucked away, Lori says she can now take care of important things in the moment – like when her car recently needed new tires – without having to use credit or wait on her next paycheck.

“The system isn’t always set up for people to succeed,” Lori reflected recently. “You have to know and understand how finances work and there are tips and tricks that the average person doesn’t know. Knowing that you have the tools to help yourself makes it a lot less stressful and makes your goals feel a lot more attainable.”                                                


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