A Message from Penny Forward Founder and CEO, Chris Peterson

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my niece’s graduation party. It was a wonderful occasion to celebrate her achievements and offer encouragement as she steps into adulthood. Moreover, it provided a rare opportunity to catch up with family members I hadn’t seen in years. Inevitably, the topic of work came up in our conversations. “What are you doing now?” “How do you like it?”

One comment, however, caught me off guard: “I don’t understand Penny Forward. What do you actually do?”

This surprised me because I feel like I talk about Penny Forward all the time, and I hope I do a good job of explaining our mission and activities. If one person is kind enough to admit they don’t understand, there are probably many others who feel the same way but haven’t spoken up. Moreover, while Penny Forward was created as a nonprofit to foster trust, I recently read that 44 percent of Americans don’t trust nonprofits simply because they’re nonprofits. They suspect nonprofit leaders of drawing huge salaries from everyday people’s donations and supplementing it with taxpayer dollars. While I wish I could say this is 100 percent untrue, I acknowledge that some organizations might operate this way. But Penny Forward is not one of them.

So, let’s talk about what we do. Penny Forward is a nonprofit organization founded and led by blind people. Our founders strongly believe that financial education can empower the blind community, making individuals feel more confident and secure. Our mission is to help each other navigate the complex landscape of personal finance. This means we’re building a community of well-educated blind people who can support one another in making healthy financial decisions.

It’s not about encouraging people to skip their morning coffee or avocado toast. Instead, it’s about creating a network of reliable individuals who can help each other find the best path forward when faced with challenging financial decisions. Take Brynn Lee, for example. She was offered a job with double her current salary but was hesitant to accept it because she didn’t know how she would manage the move to a new state without Social Security disability benefits and housing subsidies. The Penny Forward community helped her decide to take the job. Now, eight years later, she’s thriving and owns her own home.

Every day, we face numerous complicated financial decisions. Some people are adept at navigating these decisions and feel confident they’re making the right choices. Many others are not, and this problem extends beyond the blind community. A quick visit to the right Facebook groups reveals people struggling with questions like, “Should I pay off my car loan or start saving for my kids’ college?” or “Should I rent or buy a home?” While many of these people believe they’ve done their research, they often have no idea whether the advice they receive is sound.

As an Accredited Financial Counselor, AFC®, I’m proud of my certification. It demonstrates that I’ve studied all aspects of financial counseling and practiced for over a thousand hours to become proficient. In other words, I’ve worked hard to be qualified to help people make these complex financial decisions.

Financial counseling, however, can be very expensive. Independent counselors may charge over $200 per hour, excluding the 70 percent of the 20 million blind Americans living on very low incomes. Many are locked into Social Security and Medicare or Medicaid benefits, designed to deter people from working for fear of losing their benefits. They also worry about transportation costs eating up their entire paycheck and the high costs of childcare. Childcare for one child can cost over $426 a week, making it more cost-effective for one partner to stay home rather than work. Single parents, in particular, struggle with finding affordable childcare while trying to improve their lives.

So, how does Penny Forward help? First, we provide accessible online financial education courses. Students can take these courses at any time and at any pace. Our courses are designed by experts, ensuring our students learn from qualified professionals. Additionally, our learning management system is designed by accessibility experts who use screen readers, ensuring our students can navigate the courses easily.

Not everyone learns well from self-directed online courses. That’s why we offer weekly Wednesday workshops via Zoom. These workshops allow students to interact with our expert instructors and other students. They reinforce what students learn in our courses and sometimes introduce new concepts. Our workshops are highly effective, with students returning regularly, eager to participate. We hold up to 52 workshops annually, costing around $300 per session. We’re not making huge salaries here.

Lastly, we offer one-to-one financial counseling. Some students prefer not to share their financial struggles in a group setting. One-to-one counseling provides personalized support to help students resolve their financial dilemmas. We offer this at a discounted rate of $50 per hour, but recognizing that not everyone can afford this, we also provide a sliding scale, allowing students to pay as little as $10 per hour. No one can live on $10 an hour, but our counselors do their best because they believe in the importance of our mission. Your donations help us keep one-to-one counseling affordable for those who need it most.

Finally, regarding my salary as CEO of Penny Forward, I currently make nothing. When we are able to pay me, I commit to a modest salary that supports my family without exploiting the organization. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme for me. I love the blind community and care deeply about improving our lives.

I hope this explanation helps you better understand Penny Forward. If you still have questions, please ask. Help us build trust within and outside the blind community. Help us learn how to better explain who we are and what we do. And help us understand what might hold you back from donating to support this critically important cause.

Warm Regards
Chris Peterson, AFC®
Founder and CEO, Penny Forward

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