How YWCA Evanston/North Shore is Helping Women Take Control of Their Finances

How YWCA Evanston/North Shore is Empowering Women Through Financial Literacy and Independence

A couple years ago, Suanne Rayner found herself in a position of financial disarray. She did not know how to budget her money and was in a downward spiral of crushing debt.

Her situation is not unique. According to a Prudential survey, women on average are lagging behind their male counterparts in saving for retirement due to multiple factors including a lack of attention to financial planning.

As women gain momentum as driving forces behind systemic changes in politics, finance, and culture, it’s no wonder that they are now paying more attention to their own personal finance know-how, and that organizations are stepping in to help bridge the gap.

“I wanted to get control of my out-of-control finances,” says Rayner, a 60-year-old Evanston resident. “I had hit the financial bottom after taking care of my elderly mother. I had neglected my financial business.”

Hard truths like these propelled the YWCA Evanston/North Shore to create, and recently expand, its suite of financial literacy programs. The YWCA’s Basic Money Management program, which aims to strengthen the skills of low- to moderate-income women by providing tools to help with budgeting, credit, and debt issues, was so successful that the organization launched a follow-up program. The Advancement Project matches personal coaches with “graduates” of the Basic Money Management program to help them develop an individualized financial plan and support them as they develop goals and work to follow that plan.

“We know that when women are economically empowered, they are able to understand their options and make smart financial decision for themselves and their families,” says Women’s Leadership and Economic Advancement Director at the YWCA Shannon Callahan. “Working one-on-one with a financial coach allows our participants to put into practice their newfound economic knowledge and create a positive financial habit that will lead to improved confidence about their money management and ability to plan for their financial future.”

Shannon Cahill, an Evanston resident, volunteers as a financial coach with the YWCA’s Advancement Project. For years, she’s been an active participant in YWCA programs ranging from children’s swim programs to fundraiser races. Not learning to manage her own finances until she was well into her 20s, Cahill says she feels strongly about women taking control of their financial situations.

“Serving as a financial coach has allowed me to make a direct impact,” Cahill says. “After a few sessions, the woman I’m working with said, ‘This is the most empowered I’ve ever felt in my life.’ I got goose bumps because that’s exactly the mission of the YWCA: empowering women.”

Rayner’s work with her coach paid off. The Basic Money Management Program improved her foundational understanding of finances. She learned to shop around for the best credit card rates, establish good credit, and identify unscrupulous moneylenders. Through the one-on-one coaching, Rayner took what she had learned a step further and adjusted her attitude regarding money. Her coach helped her find ways to live within her means, to save money, and to always replenish. Together, they assessed her progress, developed more goals, and she began to save money for her future.

“I am very blessed to be a part of these programs,” Rayner says. “We will always be in an ongoing relationship. I am extremely lucky to have them in my corner.”


The YWCA hosts the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate in Evanston on Sunday, June 17. The Race features chip-timed 5/10K runs, a 5K walk, and youth mile/half mile, and brings together thousands of people from all over Chicagoland to run and walk in unity against racial hatred and violence. Proceeds support YWCA Evanston/North Shore violence prevention and racial equity programs. Register online. 

Never run a 5K? For help getting your preparation underway, check out this simple training plan.

Feature photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.


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Susan Pasternak has worked as a journalist for more than two decades, reporting and writing on myriad subjects ranging from national health care policy to personal finance to head lice. Her work has been published in numerous consumer and business publications. Susan lives with her husband, three children, and dog Roxy in Highland Park. She also volunteers with Working Together, a Highwood/Highland Park organization that provides enrichment opportunities to under-resourced children in the community.





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