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MILLERSBURG -- Kelsey Fowler admitted her family finances were a mess.
She and Chris Macfarlane had a baby and were paying $600 per month for a four-room apartment. And while they both had jobs, Macfarlane was paying child support for two children from a previous relationship. They had $1,000 per month, she said, to cover everything.
It seemed, Fowler said, they were getting deeper and deeper in the hole.
Then Fowler met Vicki Conn, the director of Love INC of Greater Holmes County, who told her about the organization's Faith and Finances program.
Things started looking up.
The couple attended the weekly sessions hosted by Martins Creek Mennonite Church and learned how to track expenditures, create a budget and begin saving for unanticipated expenses.
"It was a big shock," Fowler said, when they started keeping track of where their money went. "There was a stupid Facebook game I was playing, I was spending money on," Macfarlane said. And, he added, there were those random trips to Walmart where he'd buy what he needed, but then throw in a can of soda and a candy bar.
They've become more disciplined about money, but admit that it's difficult. Faith & Finances, which is supported by a number of churches under the Love INC banner, offered them not only valuable lessons, but support from allies, who helped introduce the couple into a community network they could lean on.
"When we walked into Faith & Finances," Fowler said, "there was no judgment. Everyone came up and introduced themselves." Conn said participants told her they didn't know the difference between people who signed up for the program and the people on board to serve as allies "and I told them, 'good and I'm not going to tell you either'."
Each of the 12 weekly sessions began with a meal provided by Millersburg Mennonite and served by the Martins Creek congregation. Children were offered structured play and free time overseen by Faith Bible Church pastor Steve Young and his wife, Michelle.
The Martins Creek congregation decided to offer Random Acts of Kindness as part of the program, collecting items here and there to help participants caught in a pinch. Fowler recalled running out of laundry detergent right before a payday. Another time, she needed gas.
In each case, she received a Random Act of Kindness. "It was awesome how God was with us and was looking out for us," Fowler said. "God knew exactly what we were needing."
The couple has moved in temporarily with Fowler's parents while they continue to put their financial house in order. Macfarlane has started earning more and Fowler said she has stopped overdrafting their account. It helps, she said, to know they're not on their own, but rather are "putting it to God and asking God to help us and not putting everything on ourselves."
The couple has started to save money and has made homeownership a long-term goal. Fowler, who has an associate's degree, is starting to work toward a bachelor's degree in social work at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. And, the two agree, getting on a better financial footing has helped lessen the stress in their relationship.
Conn said she hopes Love INC can offer another series in the spring. The first try went "even better than I thought," she said. "I was just humbled to see how it all came together. I think everyone at the table was impacted by it." Board member David Miller agreed, saying he thought everyone who attended -- including the allies -- learned something and made new friends. "There were tears," he said, "when we had to say good-bye."
In the aftermath of Faith & Finances, Love INC is now offering Fresh Start, a twice-monthly gathering with the first hour for one-on-one financial counseling and the second for a workshop. Fowler and Macfarlane said they plan to attend.
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.