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VCU researchers team up with Salvation Army to promote financial literacy for Richmond families while targeting the roots of poverty

VCU News

February 15, 2024

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University are working with The Salvation Army Central Virginia Area Command to pilot the Building Wealth and Health Network, a program that will provide tools for financial empowerment to those living in poverty in the Richmond area.

Since its inception in 2014, the network, which was launched by Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, has served more than 1,000 low-income families in Pennsylvania. Now the network is coming to Richmond as part of The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative, which seeks to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by addressing its root causes.

Unlike some financial literacy programs, which stop short of addressing the underlying causes of poverty such as individual and collective trauma, the Building Wealth and Health Network works to address them in the process of promoting financial literacy, said Marcia Winter, one of several VCU researchers working on the project.

“When I hear about financial literacy programs, I can get this automatic, negative reaction,” said Winter, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences as well as director of the Child and Family Perseverance Lab. “Financial knowledge doesn’t feed you when you’re hungry. I don’t know much about banking or financial literacy, and I get that it’s important, but it also feels very much like, ‘Oh, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and learn some stuff and you’ll be fine.’”

“When I really looked at their program, it started to really make more sense to me,” Winter said. “I loved it because it’s a group intervention and trauma-focused but also healing-centered. It really recognizes and honors how trauma, both individual and collective, can keep people in poverty, and endeavors to release people from the guilt of not knowing anything about finances within a system that was not set up to lift them.”

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