Ana Benitez Muñoz knows firsthand the value of understanding money matters. After she graduated from Naples High School in 2009, she went to work full time to help support her family, which like many had been caught up in the global financial crisis at that time.
“I saw how it affected everyone,” she recalls. “No one wants to see their parents struggle. They came close to losing their house. Seeing them struggle made me want to help.”
After helping to stabilize the household finances, Muñoz was able to start college — the first of her family to do so. She still works full time while majoring in finance at FGCU. This spring, her personal education in financial matters took a more public turn as she and some of her Spanish-speaking classmates worked side by side with the Southwest Florida Chapter of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) to help promote financial literacy.
For a number of years, local FPA members have presented financial education programs at Grace Place for Children & Families, a Naples nonprofit that aims to provide pathways out of poverty by educating children and families. Throughout April, three workshops covered topics such as budgeting, saving and credit. The FGCU students translated and helped the professional financial planners explain such concepts in terms the participants could understand.
“The collaboration of FPA, FGCU and Grace Place provided a wonderful opportunity to increase the financial literacy of the adults who would not otherwise have this resource available to them,” says Dr. Tim Ferguson, CEO of Grace Place. “The role that the FGCU students played supported the learning and understanding of adults.”
“Money matters can be complex,” adds FGCU Associate Professor of Finance Steve Fraser, who serves as an advisor to the FPA chapter’s board of directors. “However, understanding financial concepts can be more difficult when not all involved speak the same language. The FPA’s previous experience with Grace Place suggested the group needed additional support translating the lessons. Enter FGCU students.”
When Fraser mentioned the need for bi-lingual students to help bridge the gap, Muñoz didn’t hesitate to say “sí.” She was already familiar with Grace Place, which had helped another family member attain an FGCU scholarship. She was joined by eager Eagles Juan Pablo Romoleroux, Kevin Leyva Lopez, Luis Mendez and Jacquelyn Peña. All gained priceless experience applying classroom concepts in a real-world setting, collaborating with professionals in their chosen field and simply giving back to the community as another expression of The FGCU Effect.
“It’s rewarding — I didn’t know I could start helping people while I’m still in school,” says Muñoz, who’s now a junior. “Doing these programs makes me feel more connected. I can help more than just my own family. This information is something people can use on a daily basis.”
Aside from the personal satisfaction of empowering others with knowledge, which will ripple through dozens of families involved, she and the other students are learning strategies they are likely to need for success in the professional world. Sharing some of her life story with individuals at Grace Place helped build trust and confidence because they could relate better to her.
“This experience is teaching me how to connect with others once I get in the field,” Muñoz says. “When you meet with a client you can’t just tell them what was in the textbook you had. You have to build trust over time. If you can’t connect with them, you can’t help them.”
Muñoz always knew she wanted to pursue a career in business, which runs in her family. But these and other activities outside the classroom have helped clarify her desire to become a Certified Financial Planner and use her knowledge to benefit her community. Through the FPA’s partnership with FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business, Muñoz was paired in March with a professional in the field to get a taste of the workplace. The organization’s mission includes advancing the practice and profession as well as promoting the value of financial planning.
“The FPA has a long history of supporting FGCU students,” Fraser says. “Each spring, the association hosts Shadow Days, an opportunity for students to shadow a financial planner for a day. The group also sponsors students to attend its monthly meetings, where students get the opportunity to network with financial professionals and hear from guest speakers on various financial planning topics.”