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OLA and Whitmores Partner To Offer Free Financial Literacy Pilot Program for Workforce

When Mariah Whitmore reads the marketing materials from her 401K provider, her eyes glaze over.

And so, when the partner at Whitmores — which includes a tree farm, a landscaping business and a maintenance practice in East Hampton — hands the same pamphlets off to her workforce, which is predominantly Latino, “it’s Latin to them,” she said.

But the inequity doesn’t stop there, she said. Personal conversations with her employees have ranged from helping them manage personal finances and offering advice on purchasing a car to answering questions about their retirement plans, or lack thereof.

“Their financial avenues are not the same as mine or yours,” Whitmore said. “Some of the things that they’re up against, just because of their demographic, is unfortunately just the reality out here.”

This growing realization prompted Whitmore to reach out to Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, and they partnered to launch a free pilot program dedicated to financial literacy for the local workforce. Taught in Spanish and English, the final session will be held on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hoie Hall at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton.

“Their desire to build within this whole East End community in a healthy way, that inspires me,” Perez said of the Latino population. “It’s just wonderful to see.”

Last year, OLA was one of the recipients of M&T Bank’s Amplify Fund grant, which allowed the organization to host a four-part professional licensing workshop for prospective business owners and workers in the building trades last month in Riverhead. It drew nearly 90 participants, Perez said.

“Folks are keen to build, and build the right way,” she said. “Even folks who are newer really want to know: what are the rules, how do I do this, how can I make sure I have insurance, how can I make sure I’m licensed? That’s a message that I’m not surprised by, but I do feel that in terms of some of the narrative that’s out there, people clamored to get into that — and we had to cap it. We only had 120 empanadas ready for that workshop.”

Right around the time that the series was ending, Perez received the phone call from Whitmore, and she jumped at the chance to provide a similar service to another area of the East End workforce. After the success of the first financial literacy session, the pair decided to open the program to the public and polled participants on what they wanted to learn.

The answers they got ran the gamut, from budgeting, building a savings, credit card consolidation and credit scores, to investments, interest rates, planning for retirement, building generational wealth, and more.

“There’s a difference between earning a good income and managing your money, and those things don’t necessarily come hand in hand,” Whitmore said. “And I believe that there are obstacles to financial education out here and some of it is a language barrier, some of it may be fear based, some of it may be an intimidation factor, and some of it may just be social and cultural norms that differ.”

To make this information more approachable, Perez brought in four bilingual experts from M&T Bank who each spoke about a different topic and rotated tables after about 25 minutes. But that never seemed to be enough, she said, as participants kept firing questions, hungry for information.

“Financial literacy can be intimidating — it’s intimidating for me,” Whitmore said. “It’s technical language that you don’t understand, and then perhaps there’s a language barrier on top of that. To overcome all those things in your free time, it’s a lot.

“Mine was self-taught, through a lot of personal finance podcasts and blogs and things that I’ve used to educate myself,” she continued. “But then you need access to computers, you need the time. There’s barriers to this that we’re just trying to help with in any way that we could.”

Whitmore and Perez agreed that this model could be replicated for other businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, builders and other landscapers where there are large Latino workforces.

“The hope was that maybe we weren’t going to solve everybody’s financial problems or answer all their financial questions, but we would, with the first set of workshops, create a comfort level and a familiarity with terms and techniques,” Whitmore said. “The ultimate goal is to have them continue with other business support, and to have them expand and to be available to whoever needs it — and the fundamental belief that as a community, we lift each other up together and these educational services are so important.”

Advance registration is required at For more information, or to register by phone, call 631-899-3441.

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