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  • Shay Port

Hebrew Free Loan Association adds free financial coaching to services offered

Most people know that the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh is a resource providing interest-free loans for anything from home improvements and renovations to life cycle events to small business needs, rent or utility bills or summer camp. Beginning January 7, HFL will offer a new service to the Pittsburgh region: financial coaching.

The service will focus on long-term financial goals of individuals and families, rather than HFL’s existing services that help meet immediate needs.

According to Aviva Lubowsky, HFL’s director of marketing and development, the idea for the financial coaching was incubated after a conversation with area rabbis who asked how people with chronic financial needs could be helped.

She explained that the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry has case workers to assist people on a short-term basis but there was nothing to assist those with different needs.

Lubowsky said the issues experienced by these people are more “big picture scenario” and include “decreasing debt, creating a budget or spending plan, assistance getting on a payment plan for student loans, raising credit scores and planning for retirement.”

While the Squirrel Hills Food Pantry provides aid based on income requirements, the new service is available to anyone, regardless of income or religious affiliation.

Lubowsky described the financial coaching as a way for people to become empowered and meet “their financial goals.”

HFL has hired Shay Port, a certified public accountant with more than 20 years in the financial service industry to provide the financial coaching and offer an occasional workshop in the community.

Port has worked as a financial coach for a decade, at both JobLinks, a program of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, and most recently her own company, Financial Wellness with Shay Port.

Port said that she was already familiar with HFL before taking the position.

“Aviva and I found ourselves showing up at a lot of the same community meetings and economic development summits,” Port said.

She even took out a loan herself from HFL and was so impressed with the process that “I referred a lot of people to them, clients of mine. It’s such an incredible product. I was thrilled when Aviva asked if I would be interested in providing financial coaching.”

Port views financial coaching as a “holistic approach” to financial planning, that differs from the assistance people receive from a CPA.

“Historically, when people have an issue, they’ll go to an accountant and ask for help. With an accountant it’s a very top line approach, very transactional. Coaching is completely different. It really addresses where the client is at any given moment.”

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between financial coaching and HFL’s existing services is that the new program is client driven. Port explained that the client is ultimately the one steering the process when they meet.

“I have plenty of clients who are very good at managing their money but want a set of fresh eyes that might know something they don’t. They might want someone who can point something out or help them tweak their plans. If you’ve got a lot of problems and can’t save or you’re not investing, coaching is definitely for you. Maybe your budgeting is not really as good as you would like, we can work on that.”

“Budgeting is about making choices. It’s you deciding where you want your money to go,” Port continued. “That is what I help people do … spend their money smartly.”

The 2017 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study reported that there is a wide diversity in income and economic needs among Pittsburgh Jewish households. In fact, 23% of those surveyed said they are “just getting by,” “nearly poor” or “poor.”

On top of that, Lubowsky pointed out that “there are a lot of costs to being Jewish. We have specific costs related to our cultural and religious participations that create further demands. It’s important to recognize the economic diversity we have and respond to people’s goals.”

Port feels that “one-on-one coaching is really a game changer, helping people reach their financial goals.”

While that individual coaching can prove an inflection point in a person’s financial health, Port understands that examining one’s financial situation is a daunting task. She urged people not to become consumed by their fears.

“I go at their pace and try not to push people beyond where they’re ready to go. I listen. It’s all on their agenda. I don’t tell them where they should be focusing. They tell me. It’s step by step, based on their goals.”

The new financial coaching program is being made possible by a grant from The Fine Foundation. The foundation supports projects in arts and culture, Jewish life and science and medicine in the Pittsburgh region.

The 50-minute coaching sessions take place at HFL’s offices, 4307 Murray Ave. While they are free, appointments require a $10 deposit that is refunded at the end of each coaching session. Appointments are required and can be scheduled at 

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