New Ventures Maine helps point people in the right direction
Three years into her recovery from substance abuse, Roseanne St. George of South Portland knew it was time to get her finances on track, too. While figuring out how to do that, she found an organization online that wound up improving her life forever.
Roseanne enrolled in a five-week program called My Money Works at New Ventures Maine, a program of the University of Maine at Augusta that offers a variety of free services to Mainers around the state.
“I got so much out of New Ventures,” says Roseanne, 51, who went through the program in 2018. “It basically teaches you everything about money. I set up a budget and slowly started chipping away at my credit reports. It took a lot of work to clear it all up, but I did it, and it feels amazing.”
Roseanne gives much credit to instructor Lisa Sweet, the New Ventures Maine workforce development specialist for Cumberland and York counties for three years. Besides teaching courses that range from cleaning up poor credit to writing a spending plan, she helps people find jobs, figure out career moves, create resumes, hone interview skills and more.
“I love the work that I do, and doing this work with different populations,” says Lisa, one of 20 employees at the organization that started 41 years ago to help displaced homemakers with everything from managing money to starting a business. Funded through the state, grants and donations, New Ventures Maine has evolved into a multifaceted organization.
“We specialize in helping people who are in transition, whatever that looks like,” says Gigi Guyton, a regional manager and microbusiness specialist who has worked for New Ventures for 12 years. “We target people who are low income or in marginalized populations. So that includes people who are incarcerated. The past few years, we’ve really done a lot with the Southern Maine Re-entry Center for women and the Maine Correctional Center, both in Windham. We’re finding that a large majority of the folks who are incarcerated are in recovery or trying to be.”
Gigi explains that education to provide firmer financial footing is crucial for people leaving prison “so they won’t go back to their old ways … and can have some little nest egg as they’re being released.” Inmates on work release who successfully complete a 15-hour New Ventures Maine financial class can have their savings matched upon release. The nonprofit offers a variety of incentive matching programs like this.
Lisa says working with women who are about to resume life outside of prison is the most rewarding part of her job. “They have some really good success stories,” she says. “When they’re nearing release, the conversation shifts to, OK, what’s your plan? Where are you going? What’s your support system like? Will you be working? Those types of things. We build trust and relationships so that hopefully they do call us when they release so they can receive the match funds, but also so we can continue to help them.”
New Ventures Maine puts a lot of focus on smart money planning and budgeting, not just saving money.
“One thing we talk about a lot is what do you need versus what do you want – and what did that look like before and what does that look like now,” Lisa explains. “We get at the root of why folks interact with money the way they do. And then we offer some tools to change that thinking if you want to change that thinking.”
This was a big takeaway for Roseanne, a former convenience store manager on disability for chronic back problems who says that lesson makes sticking to a budget much easier.
“Do I really need coffee at a store, or can I go home and make it? I look at things like that now, and I’m able to save money,” she says. “It’s such a relief to have savings in case the car breaks down or whatever.”
Among other things, New Ventures Maine also helps to administer the statewide Family Development Account program for low-income people with minor children; manages the statewide CA$H coalitions that offer free tax-prep; runs a Totally Trades program that lets middle and high school students explore trades careers; and teaches business startup programs. Gigi teaches a popular 12-week Venturing Forth class – for soup-to-nuts business planning.
Courses and one-on-one communications have switched to online Zoom classes and phone calls because of COVID-19. That’s been manageable, she says, as most students have been able to participate these ways, even if only listening in via phone. But it’s been logistically challenging coordinating to continue services for incarcerated people and communicating with immigrants who much prefer in-person dealings. And Totally Trades, which features hands-on training, is being rethought and is on hold for now.
“We’ve been able to piece it together and do the best we can,” Gigi says. “We just have to be very nimble.”
Lisa adds that New Ventures Maine employees definitely have many more questions to address – and find answers to – because of the pandemic limits. Questions run the gamut: What do I need to qualify for unemployment? How do I plan for the summer with children and working? Is it the right time to look for a job? Should I sign up for the Payroll Protection Program? Can you talk me through reopening my business? Fortunately, Gigi notes, the organization has a healthy network of partnerships to connect people to.
No day at New Ventures Maine looks the same, which presents challenges – and opportunities. Both Gigi and Lisa light up when asked what they love about their work, and Gigi sums up:
“Oh, my gosh,” she says. “It’s so, so rewarding when people you’re working with get it, whatever it is you’re teaching them – when they move through whatever barriers were in their way.”
For more information, check out their website.