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Lolita Curtis is in the business of making sure others know how to handle their money wisely, and it is not an obligation she takes lightly.

To learn moreFor more information about Assets for Financial Independence Foundation and upcoming events, go to affif.org or facebook.com/PathwaytoIndependence.

Curtis, originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., is the founder and president of the Assets for Financial Independence Foundation, which she established in 2011 and also operates in Gary, Ind., and her hometown.

Through her time as a social worker, Curtis said she has done the majority of her work with “underserved populations” and observed the need for financial planning services for families struggling with poverty.

“Working with underserved populations is in my DNA. I have a master’s degree in social work, and so empowering people is part of my constitution,” Curtis said. “Financial literacy and empowerment is an area about which I am so very passionate. ... It is also a mandate for me as a Christian to help others, so AFFIF is a natural path to take.”

Nationally, Curtis said she observed a need for more financial education that reflected back to the local level.

“The most important measure of financial health is savings, so when you look at the most recent survey released by Bankrate.com and the FDIC reflecting that 28 percent of Americans do not have an emergency fund and 49 percent do not have an emergency fund to cover three months of expenses, organizations such as AFFIF can play a role in improving the financial health of individuals and the communities in which they live,” Curtis said. “When you translate the national data to a local level … an estimated 41,748 residents have no savings at all and 73,059 do not have enough saving to cover three months of expenses. Why is that significant? Well, what happens when individuals without a rainy day fund have no umbrella or coverage when it rains ... ? People incur more debt … It is hard to save when you’re servicing debt, so sufficient savings to deal with life is an important first step in improving financial health.”

AFFIF is in the process of securing funding for a match savings program that Curtis said will focus on low- to middle-income families and on the county’s youth to help them develop smart saving habits while they are still young.

“With the match savings initiative, we have the Self-Sufficient through Empowerment and Economic Development program and the Youth Education and Savings program. Charles County adults and youth who qualify will be required to save a minimum of $500 over an 18- to 24-month period,” Curtis said. “Our goal is to match $8 for every dollar saved up to $4,000. So if someone saves the $500, our hope is to provide a $4,000 match. The money they save and the match can be used for only one of three qualified purposes: to offset the expenses of post-secondary education, to start a business or as a down payment on a house. We also have a partnership that will provide an additional $2,500 match for anyone that decides to use the money they have saved and the AFFIF match for a down payment on a house. So, someone buying a house could have $7,000 towards the down payment or any of the settlement expenses associated with home purchase. This program will make housing more affordable for underserved residents in Charles County.”

Because of her longevity in this area, Curtis said she understands that both getting a fledgling nonprofit off the ground and developing smart saving skills is not an overnight process. In other parts of the country, Curtis said she has helped develop nonprofit organizations that have since grown to enjoy healthy measures of success. She hopes to promote empowerment through positive choices.

“I hope to create a legacy of intergenerational change in improving the long-term financial stability for low to moderate families,” Curtis said.

AFFIF’s work is not conducted alone. For the financial literacy classes that those in the SEED and YES programs must take, Curtis said AFFIF has partnered with Wells Fargo Bank and is awaiting decisions from other area banks. The organization has also partnered with a variety of county institutions and organizations, including trainings for the Charles County Department of Social Services, local churches and the Charles County Juvenile Drug Court Program and Point of Change Jail and Street Ministry through POC’s Reflections program.

The Rev. John Lewis, the founder of POC, said he believes deeply in the work Curtis and AFFIF do and its importance for the county.

“Ms. Curtis and I both have a passion for serving people from every walk of life,” Lewis said. “She has been the financial officer for Point of Change Jail and Street Ministry Inc. and Servants of Christ Ministries Inc. since the inception of both entities. The students who have taken her classes tell me that they have learned to look at money in a different way. After working with Ms. Curtis, most people diminish frivolous spending; instead, they began to make purchases within their means, save, investment and focus on charitable giving … saving money is what she is all about. I love working with her, and I look forward to attending her next AFFIF seminar.”

Currently, Curtis said, there are no dates set for pending financial literacy classes and other events.

lrenner@somdnews.com