Promoting Change by Learning about Credit

Students Learn Financial Literacy Alongside Bronx Residents to Become Advocates


For residents of the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, opportunities to gain financial know-how are few and far between. But two Fordham students are working in the community to change this: Pia Desangles, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’14, and Esteban Orozco, FCLC ’14, are devoting their free time to helping underprivileged Bronx residents learn how to protect themselves financially.

Desangles and Orozco have been attending financial literacy classes in Spanish in the Bronx.  These classes, which are also offered in English, are free and organized by the United Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) to help educate local residents about their finances.  Individuals in the class set financial goals for themselves during the first of five weeks; they are then assigned a counselor who helps them keep these goals even after the five-week course is over.  Credit unions, which are usually reserved for individuals with a high credit score, will be open to students who graduate from the course.

Desangles and Orozco began attending the classes in order to get involved as volunteers, but Desangles said that she feels like one of the students because of how much she’s learning.

“They’ve been showing us a lot of charts and information about finances in the Bronx—and the neighborhood really has been affected by things like the sub-prime mortgage crisis,” Desangles said.  “There’s this American dream of owning a home—we have the highest home ownership rate among developed countries—and people get convinced to buy a house, even if it’s not financially smart. They think it’s this great investment, even if they definitely will default on it— because they’ve been told that owning a house is the end goal of a good life.”

Orozco said there are also other financial concerns that vary among the students.

“There’s one guy in class who’s really confused about the banking system here—he’s from the Dominican Republic and he has no idea how to establish credit. By the end of the class he’ll know how, but more importantly, he’ll be able to join a credit union,” Orozco said.

Desangles said her own goal is to work with the UNHP again during tax season.

“I’m taking this class now so that I can get certified as an IRS volunteer in the spring, so I can help people in the Bronx file their income taxes,” she said.  “A lot of them don’t know what kinds of tax deductibles they qualify for—let’s say they make under a certain amount of money, or they have a certain number of kids. It’s like when someone at HR Block files your taxes for you—but this is free.  Many of these people are paying too much simply because they don’t know these deductibles even exist.”

UNHP also conducts research, which Orozco said he is looking forward to getting involved with.

“They’re currently doing research on the economic needs and practices of the community,” he said. “Then they base their programs, like the financial literacy class, on this information. They’re really committed to helping the community through the spread of knowledge, which I personally think is the most effective way to create change.”

Desangles and Orozco were inspired to work as IRS volunteers as part of their service learning for a world poverty class, and Desangles said she couldn’t think of a better way to get involved.

“We’re both really into economics—but not because we like to sit inside and do math homework.  It’s all about finding ways to allow as many people as possible to benefit from a system—and helping out a population as vulnerable as those in the Bronx is a good first step.”