By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in the Florida Times-Union
Mike McNamara likes to begin his financial education workshops with a story.
“I graduated college and got married,” McNamara said. “We fell in love with each other and with pieces of plastic.”
Eventually, McNamara and his wife’s credit-card debt caught up with them, and they needed help.
“A neighbor, who had a financial background, gently counseled us on many things — money tracking and budgeting,” McNamara said. “He helped us find an institution that consolidated our debts.”
That experience framed McNamara’s understanding of how humbling it can be to ask for help in financial situations.
Now, McNamara volunteers as a “money coach” through United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense initiative. He sees his volunteer role as an extension of that friendly neighbor who helped him many years ago. McNamara still uses some of the techniques he learned from that intervention.
“We learned to use envelopes to budget,” he said. “Each bill got an envelope, and then our money would get divided into each one.”
Growing up in a small Iowa farm town, McNamara watched neighbors helping neighbors. His father was a rural mail carrier who often volunteered to help families of World War II veterans. After the town lost its only doctor, McNamara’s parents spearheaded a fundraising campaign in the town, winning a grant to fund a new doctor and clinic.
McNamara eventually followed in his family’s footsteps, fundraising for the University of Florida before moving to Jacksonville to help Mayo Clinic grow into the organization it is today. He was Mayo’s senior principal gifts officer before retiring.
“I caught the vision of what Mayo could be,” McNamara said.
Involvement in the philanthropic business community is what brought McNamara to United Way of Northeast Florida. His original involvement was with the Agency Review Board, helping small nonprofits make the most of their resources. The board’s work helps struggling agencies become better equipped to impact the community.
“When I started with with RealSense, I was just getting my toe in the water,” McNamara said. Helping clients in small-group workshops and one-on-one sessions was a different role for him, but it’s one he has come to love.
“I passed out fliers in housing projects, and I was a greeter for tax preparation sites until I became a certified money coach,” McNamara said. “I was part of the original cohort of coaches.”
He’s happy to now pass along financial knowledge that helped him, too, become more successful.
“One client would call me on a regular basis,” McNamara said. “She had gotten herself almost totally out of debt and then she moved to Atlanta.”
Worried at first, McNamara said he was thrilled to hear she continued to make progress in her new city. Her story, like his own, is what inspires McNamara to help others.
Financial coaching, like McNamara provides, is one of many services offered by RealSense, United Way of Northeast Florida’s financial stability initiative. For information on how you can become a money coach, like McNamara, or to learn about upcoming tax-preparation opportunities for volunteers and families, visit: www.unitedwaynefl.org/realsense.