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Financial Educator of the Year Named

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Teaches Personal Finance to Thousands Each Year

Providing financial education to Americans can be challenging.  Providing it to a group of people from a country where credit is scarcely used, banking accounts are rare, and most have never made a rent or house payment takes a special person.  That person is Sandy Joel, the NFCC 2011 Professional Achievement and Counseling Excellence (PACE) Educator of the Year.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands, Sandy’s homelands in the South Pacific, has one of the world’s worst economies, with an unemployment rate of close to 40 percent.  Such conditions have brought an estimated 10,000 Marshallese to northwest Arkansas, making it the largest concentration of Marshallese citizens outside the Marshall Islands.

A contract with the federal government allows Marshallese to travel freely and work in the United States.  This arrangement, along with the dream of economic opportunity, led Sandy Joel to the U.S. in 2003.  “Coming here was very, very hard,” commented Joel.  “I did not understand a lot of things, such as how to live, how to handle money, how to rent or buy a home.  I had to figure it out on my own.”  The personal experience of overcoming a lack of basic financial skills changed Sandy’s life, resulting in changed lives for thousands of other Marshallese in America.

As the lead Marshallese educator for NFCC Member Agency, Credit Counseling of Arkansas, Joel developed curriculum specific to the Marshallese culture.  Exceptionally innovative, Sandy uses unique methods to communicate.  For example, to educate around smart shopping practices, she brings milk cartons to display where expiration dates are posted. 

In 2010, she delivered 590 financial education seminars, reaching 18,246 attendees during that one year.  To further her outreach, Joel regularly posts financial education tips on Marshallese websites. 

Joel is a recognized expert in her field, and is often called upon by leaders locally, nationally and globally.  Marshall Islands President Jureland Zedkaia gave her a special commendation, while the First Lady of the Marshall Islands, Hannah Jurelang Zedkaia, has participated in many of Sandy’s seminars. Joel is the leader of the Women’s Fellowship for 12 churches and says, “My doors are always open to the people.  When people from my country are in trouble, it breaks my heart.  This is why I try my best to teach anything that can help them.” 

Joel has a tireless work ethic.  Often her outreach efforts begin the moment new Marshallese arrive in Arkansas.  Once greeting the newcomers, the acclimation process begins.  One of the first tasks is to obtain a Social Security Number through the consulate, followed by personally escorting new residents to banks, translating and explaining processes and terms to help them establish accounts.  So far this year Joel has personally assisted more than 75 Marshallese people establish a banking relationship, introducing them to basic financial concepts such as opening a checking or savings account.

“Sandy understands the distinct disadvantage the Marshallese face because of complete unfamiliarity with our banking and credit systems,” said Mike Robards, executive director of Credit Counseling of Arkansas.  “She is passionate and is fully committed to protecting, teaching and encouraging her people to ensure they have the basic financial skills and knowledge that will allow them to financially survive in their new country.”

Special thanks to Citi and Experian for their contributions in support of the PACE Award program.

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