On a warm June morning, a small community room in Beaverton is alive with chatter. A group of Somali Bantu women in vibrant dresses are pouring tea and coffee for one another, doling out small pastries and carrying on spirited conversation, laughing and speaking with waving hands and animated expressions. 

Most of the women arrived with small children in tow, and the little ones are bouncing on knees, toddling around the room or being passed from one woman to another’s waiting arms. A five-year-old girl totes her baby brother around the room, proudly displaying him to anyone paying attention. There are a couple of men in attendance too, engaged in quiet conversation at a separate table. The interpreter arrives, and the children are lured away from their parents with juice pouches and the promise of outdoor playtime. It’s time to get started.

The group is here for the fourth session of a financial education workshop series. They’ve covered topics like creating a budget and savings plan, navigating the banking system and building and protecting credit - concepts that weren’t relevant in the war-torn country they fled, but are vital to navigating life in the U.S.

The series was made possible through a grant received by Early Learning Washington County (ELWC), a program co-lead by United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services. ELCW staff was able to leverage United Way’s longstanding relationships with the local nonprofit community to bring in Innovative Changes, a United Way Community Strengthening Partner that helps low-income people build their long-term financial health, to conduct the training.

Begona Rodriguez Liern, ELWC Senior Manager, explains how these financial trainings support United Way’s mission to break the cycle of childhood poverty.

“We follow a two-generation approach to create opportunities for vulnerable populations. Financial education helps families achieve housing stability, which gets us closer to our goal of ensuring that families are stable and children are ready to succeed in school.”

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