DANVILLE — With job layoffs and uncertainty, financial challenges are real for most people in the area.

Last year, University of Illinois Extension’s volunteer Money Mentors helped more than 100 community members with their financial goals. This year, more people are likely to seek help, according to Kathy Sweedler, consumer economics educator with the Extension.

And that’s where people can help from the comfort of their homes.

Money Mentors is a free one-on-one program that helps people manage their finances by pairing them with a mentor. Training for mentors is offered twice a year.

The next session begins May 28. Weekly trainings are 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays. People interested in becoming mentors are asked to register beforehand.

Training sessions include online class discussions. Each week there is homework in the form of activities, readings and online training. Assistance is available for anyone who is not familiar with Zoom meetings.

There is a $40 cost for training; however, partial scholarships are available.

Money Mentor volunteers complete 30 hours of financial education and coaching training with Extension educators. Mentors then are matched with people who seek help with financial goals such as paying down debt, building spending plans, saving for dreams and organizing their finances. If someone is unemployed, the mentor can provide resources.

“For participants, being matched with a mentor is like having their own personal, financial coach to reach their goals,” Sweedler said.

Normally, Sweedler said, mentors meet with their mentees in person. But, for now, the mentoring will be done by phone or through Zoom.

This is a volunteer activity that people can do from home, she said.

“A lot is being a sounding board and coaching them,” she said.

Mentors don’t need a financial degree or background. They must be comfortable talking about money and how to communicate well, which is covered in the training.

The Money Mentor program is making a difference in people’s lives, she said, adding, “Overall, we’re seeing positive change.”

For people who need the help of a mentor, the program is free and there are no income guidelines.

As a participant, you can meet one time (for example, if you have a few questions about money management) or you can commit to meeting via phone or a virtual communication mode at least once a month over a four-month period. After four months of mentoring you can decide if you’d like to continue meeting with your mentor.

While Money Mentors has been helpful to people over the past several years, it’s particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweedler said one out of five people who had a job in February have filed for unemployment, as of April 30, according to a report by NPR.

“It’s estimated that 50 percent of Americans have either lost jobs or lost working hours as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said. “Financial challenges are real for most people in our community.”

Sweedler created the Money Mentor program in 2013 after noticing a definite need for financial mentoring. The program is modeled after a national Cooperative Extension program in other states.

Currently, the Money Mentors program is available to residents in nine Illinois counties, including Vermilion.

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