A common objection I hear when speaking to other professionals about partnering with me to provide services to low-income individuals is they don’t know anyone who needs help. A second, closely related objection is they don't believe financial counseling among low-income individuals works.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to know if a person needs help or if I can help them. And if your day is anything like mine, it's probably filled with enough business or at least busyness that it's hard to even think of knocking on someone's door to see if they need help.

Hurting people are everywhere. Crisis in the home, medical diagnosis, death in the family, unemployment, wayward child, disability, foreclosure, and many other situations create deep hurts in people everyday.

When you encounter a hurting person, you have a choice: Help them get to a better place in life or leave them where they are.

Let me very gently and quietly suggest that leaving a person where they are offers no hope and actually creates an oppressive situation for the person. As a child, my family made a long distance move with a rented truck. My father drove the truck into the middle of the night, when suddenly the engine began to act up. We were on a lonely stretch of interstate as it was, so he decided to take the nearest exit, hoping to limp to a town. We ended up on a rural road that was more lonely than the interstate. Then the truck’s engine quit, and smoke billowed out from the engine hood. It was pitch dark in either direction. When he opened the hood, flames shot up out of the engine, reaching heights above the cab. From time to time, a car would pass, but none would stop.

As each car passed, the sound of the speeding tires on the road seemed to say, “We don’t have time,” or “We don’t want to get dirty,” or “They’ll figure something out.” It was as if they said, “We don’t care,” and with each passing moment, the situation became more serious.

All our possessions were about to go up in smoke there along the lonely road, and no one seemed interested in preventing the disaster. No one seemed interested in making a difference in our lives.

When I encounter a difficult business transaction, I ask the other person to put themselves in my shoes and try to understand where I’m coming from. It’s a strategy that has often worked to resolve disagreements. When you stop long enough to empathize with the other person, you come to realize that if you were in that position, you would want someone to stop and help. Even if they can’t do anything, at least you’ve got company or perhaps a calm head.

Our busy world and constant engagement with technology make us unaware that we’re zipping by people who need help and may very well benefit from what you have to offer. Many of those people are trapped by their situation, wishing they could get out and zip along the road to success too, but helpless as to the solution to their problem.

Leaving people where they are only offers them more hopelessness. The silent suffering builds, and emotional scars develop. Eventually, they give up, and the vitality of life subsides, leaving them a shell of their former selves.

Zacchaeus Financial Counseling offers help because we believe in hope. We believe in helping people see over the horizon. We believe in offering a helping hand to take a person from where they are to a better place in life. We believe everyone deserves an opportunity.

I will agree with you that most needs aren’t screaming for attention like a burning moving truck in the middle of the night. But, if people would pass by a burning moving truck, they will pass by a family hurting from financial distress too.

Professionals in any type of role that guides people – ministers, counselors, attorneys, other financial advisors, physicians, and many other professionals – should at least inquire or offer to get help for the specific need, rather than do nothing.

So how do you know if a person is hurting or if you could help them? This four-part series of articles is written to equip you to identify the people who are hurting, break down the barriers of embarrassment and vulnerability, and intervene when help is resisted.

So stick around.


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    Climbing the Money Tree


    R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) and founder of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc., a non-profit organization providing financial planning services to low-income households and households experiencing financial strain.

    View my profile on LinkedIn