By Ms Jennifer M Caprioli (Drum)November 17, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. --- In a time when not only Americans but people worldwide are being forced to tighten their financial belts, some Fort Drum spouses have been given an opportunity to help Soldiers and Families alleviate financial strain and learn how to stretch a buck.
Five Fort Drum spouses recently were awarded fellowships that will provide them with the training they need to become accredited financial counselors.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Foundation's Military Spouse Fellowship accreditation will give them the portable job skills and arm them with the knowledge and experience to help other military Families overcome financial challenges.
The five spouses -- Amanda Morneault, Rachel Millios, Tracy Myer, Alina Newburn and India Wilson -- were among nearly 200 military spouses worldwide who were awarded the fellowship this year.
Through a partnership with the National Military Family Association and the Association for Financial Planning and Counseling Education, FINRA devised the fellowship, which allows military spouses to earn accredited financial counselor designation.
"The whole goal of this fellowship is to help spouses gain a career-enhancing credential that is also portable, so when they move from duty station to duty station, it will be easier for them to get a job or find meaningful volunteer work," explained Gerri Walsh, president of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
In order to become an accredited financial counselor, fellowship awardees are required to complete two, 10-week webinars on financial counseling and personal finance. They also must complete a certain number of practicum hours based on the individual's experience, and pass two exams.
They must complete all of the requirements within three years.
Training materials and up to two chances to take each exam are provided to participants at no cost to them.
One way to earn practicum hours is through an internship, which Morneault is taking advantage of through Fort Drum Army Community Service's Financial Readiness Program.
Before coming to Fort Drum, Morneault worked as a financial accountant for a company.
"I enjoyed (working for a company), but I felt like my personality would be a better fit with counseling and helping people," she said. "I like to plan and have goals and see them accomplished, and I get excited to see other people accomplish their goals. I thought (this) would be a rewarding career."
Morneault, who has an undergraduate degree in business and a Master of Business Administration, began volunteering with the Financial Readiness Program last year, before she applied for the fellowship.
While volunteering, she said she became interested in the work of the financial counselors.
The counselors who work at Fort Drum's Financial Readiness Program assist clients with money issues and questions about the Thrift Savings Plan, budgeting, balancing a checkbook and helping to resolve debt issues. This service is free for Soldiers, Families and Department of the Army civilians.
Spouses who are doing their practicum hours at Army Community Service begin by observing various aspects of the Financial Readiness Program. They observe counselors during briefings, classes and one-on-one counseling, and they help alleviate counselors' workload by performing administrative duties.
The fellows also will eventually teach classes such as the monthly budget development class, as well as address Soldiers at the newcomers briefing, explained Kent Thompson, Financial Readiness Program manager at ACS.
Thompson said he also hopes to provide the volunteers with common access cards so they can assist with data input, which would help the financial counselors.
"I'm glad they have the (fellowship) program, because the recipients have helped us a lot. They free up a lot of time for (the counselors) so we can see other customers," Thompson said.
When the fellows are close to obtaining the required practicum hours, and when Thompson feels they are prepared enough, the spouses will be given an opportunity to provide one-on-one counseling, while being observed by a counselor.
Morneault said once she has finished the fellowship, she would like to get a job as a financial counselor with the Financial Readiness Program here.
Although spouses can choose to log practicum hours at ACS, they are not required to volunteer on post; they can work with a financial institution in the community.
According to Walsh, spouses are encouraged to use a variety of channels to earn their practicum hours.
She noted the five spouses who were awarded the fellowship were a "fairly significant concentration of spouses" at one installation.
"It's just wonderful news for Fort Drum," she added.
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation offers eligible military personnel free access to their Fair Isaac Corporation, or FICO, scores and the educational information in the FICO Standard service from www.myFICO.com.
These tools can help service members and their Families take steps to improve their knowledge of credit scores, better manage their credit and make better financial decisions.
Since the fellowship's inception in 2006, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation has awarded up to 200 fellowships each year. To date, 10 Fort Drum spouses have been awarded fellowships.
The application submission period runs from March through April. For more information about the fellowship, visit www.saveandinvest.org.