A local Winston-Salem program called Flourish that works with women to help them reach financial independence and transition out of poverty is launching a bilingual cohort for Latinas. The cohort is a response to the growing financial needs facing Latina women in North Carolina.

At a weekly meeting of women who come to the Green Street United Methodist Church to learn about financial literacy, Rosa Murphy sits at an empty table in a room decorated with simple daisy arrangements and a whiteboard. 

It’s been an ongoing effort by the local nonprofit The Shalom Project. But now Murphy has come on board to extend the program to Spanish speakers. 

"I got here from Colombia, I’m from Medellín, Colombia. I got here in '97," Murphy says. "After arriving to North Carolina there were no resources, only a small number of Latinos. The community was very limited. Meaning, there was no community, no one to interact with, and in '98 I got pregnant."

During pregnancy, she had to learn extremely quickly what programs and opportunities were available to her in the state, while also studying English. But being bilingual also opened a lot of doors for her, and she began using her language skills to translate for local organizations.

a daisy arrangement

A daisy arrangement awaited Flourish members for their weekly meeting. EILEEN RODRIGUEZ/WFDD

Murphy wants to draw on her personal experience to lead this new project. She had to endure a lot of ups and downs after migrating to the United States. So, she’s focusing on mental health as a starting point.

"First, work on ourselves, work on our self-confidence and our self-esteem, recognize how capable we are, and when we break free from those chains, we realize that everything is reachable and that the world is ours and that we can reach it," says Murphy.

The one-year program will include a mix of mental health services readily available, classes on personal finances, and weekly check-ins. 

Kristopher Norris, the Flourish program director, says there’s value in creating a Spanish-speaking cohort.

"We noticed that increasingly, the percentage of people who make use of their services is increasingly Latino and Hispanic, about two-thirds to 75% of the clients at the medical clinic and food pantry," he says.

Norris says the team has seen the influx of immigrants in Forsyth County and not enough programs that might focus on extending financial services to Spanish speakers. 

"We really see that this is a really important time to try to kind of lift up and empower this community and especially Latina women, to extend this program to them to do more than just sort of handout basic needs, but to really sort of educate and empower," says Norris.

He adds that this is one way to address the systemic issues facing Spanish speakers. Hispanic women are most likely to live in poverty in North Carolina, according to the 2022 North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement report. Their median income is also less on average compared to women in other demographic groups, and nearly half compared to that of white men. 

Craig Richardson, a professor of economics at Winston-Salem State University, says the pandemic made it worse. Since then, the sectors that lost the most jobs were leisure, hospitality, and retail — industries that tend to be mostly filled by women. Women of color, especially heads of households, were not prepared for the downturn. 

"The resiliency of white families or families that are better off was much deeper because they had savings they could draw upon," says Richardson. "But when you have families who are poor, and you don't have that nest egg, or you don't have that savings, that resiliency is going to be that much lower."

Household debt also plays a part. The amount of debt increased in 2022, according to credit agency Experian. Auto loans, credit cards, and personal loans saw the largest increase. 

"Because low-income people are more likely to have credit cards that are variable rates, and also higher rates, this debt will hurt people higher," says Richardson.

Rosa Murphy says that now we’re getting out of the pandemic, and with all of these extra hurdles, Latinas need to be equipped with the tools to face what is now shaping up to be a potential financial recession, but they might need a little push. 

The organization is encouraging the group to create a savings account and will be matching those savings with up to $250. 

"This is a way to give them an incentive so that they can keep saving and by the end of the program, they have a good amount of money saved so that they can start moving forward," says Murphy.

a group of women eats a meal at various tables

Flourish program attendees ate their meal before their weekly meeting started. EILEEN RODRIGUEZ/WFDD

If the recent meeting for all women is any indication, a Spanish-speaking service will be a source of community and support. All are given a free meal before their weekly session. Then, it's time for show and tell. One woman holds up a wooden magazine stand that she carved herself. 

"It’s got a mistake, that’s how you know it’s handmade," one of the women in the audience said. "If we wanted it perfect, it would come off a machine."

Everyone around the room sat, amazed, and flooded the woman with encouragement. Flourish Director, Kristopher Norris laughs and says, “This is why this is so important.” 

This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. 

Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.

Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022

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