By SHAWN SPRUCE
For most Americans borrowing money is a way of life. Whether we’re financing a new vehicle, starting a business, mortgaging that dream home, or simply charging the weekly groceries, credit is a tool for the modern economy. Cherokee residents are certainly no exception. So, in an effort to assist individuals and families with navigating an often complex world of credit reports, interest rates, and consumer lending laws, community development specialists convened recently for an intensive four day workshop at Harrah’s Casino.
The Native American Credit Counseling Program was sponsored by Sequoyah Fund in partnership with Rural Dynamics Inc., a non-profit agency from Great Falls, Montana which developed the unique certification program tailored specifically for credit counselors working in Indian Country.
Sequoyah fund chose to host the event to help launch its new Financial Wellness Program and provide a networking forum for partnering organizations, such as First Citizen’s Bank, Qualla Financial Freedom, and EBCI Housing which assist community members with a broad range of credit concerns. Angie Bradley, contract health manager at Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority, also added depth to the training by sharing information regarding medical billing questions that occasionally arise from outpatient referrals.
“I learned some valuable skills this week for how to effectively communicate with care providers on behalf of patients” Bradley explained. “The system can be complicated so we work with people to sort out any credit related issues that they might encounter. We hear so much about credit cards these days, but interestingly medical bills are actually more likely to hurt a person’s credit than unpaid credit cards.”
In addition to the opportunity for participants to earn the prestigious Accredited Credit Counselor (ACC) certification in coordination with the Native American Credit Counseling Program, the training also featured a group discussion for partnering organizations of a newly formed local credit counseling coalition to highlight their services and explore best practices.
“Our motivation is simple. We all share a vital need to provide services, but without any local certified credit counselors, we often have to look to outside agencies for assistance” explained Nell Leatherwood, executive director at The Sequoyah Fund. “Fortunately, several coalition partners will soon have the capacity to deliver certified credit counseling directly to clients. Furthermore, Sequoyah Fund looks forward to offering expanded services such as assistance with disputing credit reports and creating financial action plans as part of our exciting new Financial Wellness Program.”
EBCI Homebuyer Services Coordinators, Maceta Bradley and Michelle Jackson, work with a number of families to build creditworthiness for mortgage approvals, and appreciated the convenience of a training close to home. “The ACC certification will enable us to better serve our homebuyers,” Bradley stated. “Moreover, our staff usually has to travel out of state for this type of highly specialized training so it’s great to have it offered right here in Cherokee. Not to mention the wonderful value added networking opportunities we enjoyed.”
For more information on Sequoyah Fund’s Financial Wellness Program and other financial services the organization offers throughout the Qualla Boundary and seven far western counties of North Carolina; stop by their offices located inside the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex. Also feel free to contact either Shawn Spruce 359-5004 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Hope Huskey 359-5005 (email@example.com).