Each month, we shine a light on a Points of Light employee who is making a difference in their community. These stories of service highlight the individual volunteer efforts of our dedicated staff, what motivated them to get involved and how service has inspired them.
Growing up in rural Alabama, Martina Edwards says helping your neighbor was a part of the community culture. Passionate about economic growth and empowerment for under-represented population, today she is dedicated to helping families and individuals reach financial peace and security. Martina, who is vice president of corporate partnerships at Points of Light, is a volunteer financial coach, inspiring, equipping and mobilizing others to live their best lives, free of monetary worry and debt.
Understanding basic money management skills is important for every individual, yet so many households struggle with budgeting, debt and investing in their future. Martina has become a source of hope for individuals and families who are trying to meet their financial goals. Through extraordinary volunteer work with her church, the local United Way and Junior Achievement of Georgia, Martina is relentless in investing in others with her time and skills, helping to address income inequality in the Atlanta community.
We spoke to Martina about her dedication to financial literacy, and her commitment to guiding people towards stability and brighter futures.
What was your first volunteer experience?
That’s difficult to pinpoint. I grew up in a rural community, so I feel like giving back was embedded into the ethos of my family and helping your neighbor, in a multitude of ways, was a part of our community culture. More formal giving came when my family moved to the big city of Montgomery, Alabama, and I got involved in clubs such as Junior Civitan through school. I also participated in several Habitat for Humanity projects.
How did you become passionate about financial literacy and education?
There are a host of pivotal moments that I can point to, but a few are profound. Personally, my passion for organizations focused on economic growth and empowerment for under-represented populations, coupled with a keen awareness for community needs, comes from growing up in rural Alabama. There, I watched my mother undergo bankruptcy after a divorce, and eventually started my career as the only African-American female broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 2001. In many cases, I’ve been inspired to leverage my background and knowledge to create more access for minority women and business enterprises, as I am a walking example of how exposure and a roadmap can dramatically shift the trajectory of a career.
What organizations have helped you be involved with sharing financial education and money management skills with your community? What do you do within each organization as a volunteer?
One rewarding commitment I made in 2018 was completing, then facilitating a nine-week Financial Peace University class for my church on money management and debt elimination, which supported nearly 20 families on their financial peace journey. Through this process, 26 credit cards were closed and nearly $20,000 in debt was paid off. More importantly, attendees developed a support system and budgeting skills, which will pay dividends for years to come as they change the course of their financial path and begin to leave a legacy for their family. My reward is seeing the shift in their demeanor, confidence and overall resilience; seeing their renewed hope and faith. Studies show that financial coaching, financial education and access to low cost financial products has the potential to achieve changes in financial behavior and overall economic security. As a financial coach, I believe that my role is to inspire, equip and mobilize individuals to be their best selves by providing them with the resources that they need to create plans and take actionable steps toward their goals.
I committed to continue this type of work through my involvement with two United Way programs – “Making Wages Work” and an Individual Development Account project designed to help low-income individuals and families through matched savings. Both are six-month financial coaching commitments that provide access to financial education and resources for working families. Each month my coachee and I have done the work to ensure she stays on track, from navigating unexpected household challenges to converting her business goals into actionable goals. I’m proud to share that she is $300 and one month away from achieving her savings goal, which will allow her to receive $4,000 – a 4:1 match – for her nonprofit business!
I also enthusiastically serve as a member of the leadership council for Junior Achievement of Georgia, regularly volunteering for its Discovery Center and engaging in quarterly strategy sessions with leadership on organizational vision and direction to ensure that every year more than 30,000 middle school students will have the opportunity to experience immersive learning through JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. This is near and dear to me because talent is often broadly distributed, but unevenly developed. Junior Achievement of Georgia’s mission helps to level the playing field and creates pathways to financial literacy and knowledge of basic life skills for our youth.
What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteer experience?
The ability to invest in others through my time and talent, as well as meeting diverse subsets of people whom I may have not encountered were it not for my civic engagement.
Do you have any favorite memories or stories of your service from the organizations or individuals you volunteer with?
Atlanta is ranked No. 1 by the Brookings Institute for income inequality and the gap between the city’s rich and poor is growing at an accelerated pace, creating an unfortunate but true “tale of two cities.” When I was selected to the board of AB67, Atlanta Beltline, I knew that I wanted to serve on its Empower Committee, which is focused on collaborating with residents. Through our committee, I am proud that we were able to identify a key issue, property tax increases, and ultimately help identify locations, neighborhoods and support the communications efforts for three separate two-and-a-half-hour workshops, in partnership with Legal Aid. These sessions not only helped residents better understand property tax statements, but also the options available if they wished to appeal.
Do volunteers need a financial background to help their community with financial literacy and education programs? If not, how can someone get involved?
The degree of knowledge one needs varies, but traditionally all that’s needed is your will and energy. Most of the volunteer work that I am involved in consists of some orientation or volunteer training to ensure individuals are equipped and confident in supporting others.
What have you learned from your experience as a volunteer and leader?
The value of my own agency, empathy and compassion. In many cases the recipients of these acts of kindness have dreams and aspirations, but often just need guidance and direction on their journey to accomplishing them.
Has your experience with volunteer service influenced and/or affected your career? If so, how?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been asking myself about my purpose. I could never quite pin it, but I’ve always known that helping others was central to it. I believe wholeheartedly that access to resources, exposure to places and mentorship from others provides a person with a different lens on life. Understanding that those acts of selflessness were done for me throughout my life, I have always sought to pay it forward. In many ways it has led me to my current role at Points of Light and former role at Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.
What advice do you have for others who are looking to turn their passion into action in their communities?
Go for it! Not only do you have the power to make a difference and be a force for good in your community, but you will also gain much more than you could have ever imagined from your acts of service to others!
Want to make a difference in your community? Visit www.allforgood.org to find local opportunities to get involved.