Nearly 20 years ago Michael Sheldon dug himself out of a mound of debt, promising himself that he would never be there again.
Now, Sheldon, despite having no financial background, is helping to run a program at Mountain View Lutheran Church (MVLC) in Ahwatukee Foothills aimed at helping families in debt do the same thing.
Financial Peace University is a nation-wide, 13-week video-based program created by financial author and radio and television personality Dave Ramsey to teach families how to get out of and stay out of debt. This year is the first year MVLC is offering the program, which began on Sept., 16.
“It’s all about personal accountability, but in a supportive, educational format,” Sheldon said. “It’s all about getting people talking about these – what were before sensitive – off-limits discussions.”
About a year ago, amidst growing economic difficulties like foreclosures, Sheila Coonen, MVLC mission development director, put a one-line notice in the church’s bulletin asking for people willing to help others facing financial turmoil. A group of volunteers, including Sheldon, took notice.
Before deciding to follow the Financial Peace University program, the group directed people looking for financial help to nonprofit organizations that specialized in such issues, and they also offered finance-focused workshops, but attendance was unpredictable, Sheldon said.
“Part of what we figured is that when people are in crisis, they don’t necessarily want to come out in public with that,” Sheldon said. “And we kind of thought it would probably be good if we had a class that ... wasn’t crisis, but it was enrichment.”
The group believed that Financial Peace University’s program, which consists of two-hour weekly class sessions made up of a video lesson from Ramsey and a time for discussion in small groups focusing on topics varying from savings, getting out of debt, credit cards, mortgages, jobs and budgeting, would serve best to enrich people.
“It helps people, first of all, find the information, find people willing to help direct them in the right way, and not feel alone,” Coonen said about the new program.
So far, 30 individuals, or roughly 14 families, have registered for MVLC’s Financial Peace University program, which costs $99 for a lifetime membership, Sheldon said. With help from companies like Alliance Bank of Arizona, Arizona Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, Virginia Piper Foundation, Arizona Saves and Consumer Credit Counseling Services, the volunteer-run program has been able to start, and Sheldon believes it will grow immensely as more people learn about it.
“What I think we need to get out of this is helping the community,” he said. “The debt-busting thing is so epidemic, and it’s such a national and international deal, if we can make a small dent in that, then we’re doing good.”
Scholarships are offered for people struggling to pay the membership fee, and the program is always open to more volunteers willing to help, Sheldon said.
In addition, MVLC offers a free meal and childcare during class time.
Cassidy Olson is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.