Financial Confidence Through Education: The Phe’be Foundation – C to C, The Commitment to Community Podcast Series from Oswald

February 11, 2022

For the past 20 years, the Phe’be Foundation has helped clients design financial strategies “as unique as their thumbprints.” Through its network of partners and volunteers, they are committed to showing up when and where they are needed to bridge financial literacy gaps.

Check out our podcast interview with Sharron Murphy-Williams, founder of The Phe’be Foundation, to learn how she’s called upon her financial career and know-how to empower generations with financial confidence.




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SCHMITZ: Hi, it’s Christina. We’re back again with another episode of C to C, the commitment to community podcast from Oswald Companies. I’m so excited to be here today with Sharon Murphy Williams. Hello. How are you doing? Thanks for joining us.

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: I am so good. I am honored to be on this podcast. I thank Oswald for this opportunity. I want to also thank Ms. Zoe Brown, who actually made this connection happen. I’m excited about the information we’re going to deliver and thank you for having me.

SCHMITZ:  Wonderful. Well. So Sharron is the founder and director of The Phe’Be Foundation, which, as we’ll learn today, it has a clear focus on financial literacy in our communities. Would you mind starting the conversation by sharing your story and the path that led you here today?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: I’d be honored. The Phe’be Foundation, so that people know that is not technically my name. It’s the name derived out of the Bible, and it’s Roman 16, and she was a businesswoman. My background is Dun & Bradstreet. I run a rather successful business, and I’m a credit strategist. So I always had clients who had money with credit issues, and I could take that task on and resolve it. But I got an AHA moment one day that there were so many more people that needed to know this information than could afford to find it out. And so the Phe’be Foundation was birthed, and it’s all about educating the consumer on the work that I mastered for other people. It is sharing this information. The Phe’be Foundation was birthed in 2001. So we’re coming up on our 20th year as a nonprofit organization. Wow.

SCHMITZ: Congratulations. It probably seems like it’s probably gone faster than it feels with all that’s happened.

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: So much faster than it feels. But the look back is amazing when you see we’ve impacted over 500 households in the Greater Cleveland area. We’ve been in the school for over 20 years. That’s actually where I started. My community work was at a school called South High School, part of the CMSD schools. I’ve never left the school district teaching financial education, even to date.

SCHMITZ: Wow. Can you share a bit about the key services that the organization offers? Yes, certainly you can learn more at the Phe’, but I’d love to hear from you. Just the passion and the premise behind everything that you do.

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: The premise behind everything we do is keeping the playing field level and equitable and including everyone. Diversity is critical. It makes everything work better. However, you have to educate to qualify. You don’t just get to be a part of success without the work, because if we think about it, success only comes before work in the dictionary. So the work we put people through is being educated with a clear focus on that individual. So what do we do? We provide financial literacy classes. We do them virtually. We do them hybrid. We do them in person. Our classes go in person. We require strict CDC guideline following. If you are selected to be in person with us, you must prove vaccination. Then we provide those classes the same classes connected via Zoom so other people can participate. Trying to be inclusive for all. Most of our classes are free to the end user, but I tell people there’s nothing free. Someone invested in The Phe’be Foundation to invest in you and so become a return on the investment, be a better, stronger consumer and meeting people where they are probably as our greatest niche being intersectional.

We work with people that are thinking about investing, but we work with people that are thinking about bankruptcy. We work with people that want to buy homes. We close over half a billion dollars in mortgages. Wow. They have a single digit default rate, which means we post-counsel. We pre-counsel, and people stay and remain part of the family almost indefinitely.

SCHMITZ:  Do you find that clients that you work with actually come back to either help volunteer? I noticed your the Young Adult Advisory Council board. Can you talk about that?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: That is one of the most amazing components to ThePhe’be Foundation. There are six of them. Please visit our website or LinkedIn just to see these young people were all either students of mine out of high school. There’s a young man by the name of Ikenna Okoro who came out of John Hay. He’s now a senior at Columbia and he’s the President of their Black Studies. He’s studying to be a physician. But I met him through our advisory board Council President Anita Johnson, where we were collaborating with an organization and she was the director. All of these young people, I was their teacher around financial education, and I have had the privilege of working with thousands. And when I say that that is not a boosted number, it’s probably a minimized number because I’ve been in it so long and these six were identified that how do we make what we’ve done novel? How do we give it that young flair? How do we make it peer-to-peer relevant? They’re going through training and they’re doing and creating a peer-to-peer training and coaching. So that on the campuses in which they go to or in the workplaces that this message doesn’t stop with them. My secret saying is, Don’t hoard. Absolutely.

SCHMITZ:  What would you say, I guess set against the pandemic state, it continues to pose challenges. What have been some of the most critical needs or maybe specific needs due to the pandemic that you’ve seen with the audiences that you serve?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: There are two parts to it. One was the digital aspect of it, and the other is there is going to be a financial pandemic and we’re not prepared for it. We are as prepared for the financial pandemic as we were March 2020 for COVID-19 . It is inevitable that it is coming. And if we don’t get some vaccines in our heads around our money. And that’s the part that Phe’be is really fighting to get out to the masses. Let’s get ready for the financial pandemic. Preparation will help us sustain, and then this virtual, this digital thing. On the onset of COVID, we were teaching 30 8th graders financial education, and we were getting ready to lose them. I asked an incredible team of mine, what now? What next? And we developed this program called Wired 2 Work. What that does is we stand in the financial gap of this digital divide. What does that mean? That sounded real good, isn’t it?  What that means is affordability is relative, and it’s a discounted rate over here, and for some is not in the budget for all. What we know, though, is a social injustice to be disconnected. It is just an unfair approach. What we’ve done is we opened up a program where we will pay up to one year of someone’s Internet connection. However, there are some requirements of that, and they are you have to participate in financial education classes so that we can get you better prepared to take this bill on up to a year doesn’t mean we’re going to pay it for a year if we identify the ability is in you. It’s a case-by-case basis. But we connect our seniors. We have even one of the best things about Wired 2 Work was we partnered with a battered senior women’s shelter. I can’t name, but what we did is we found them. We had a seamstress create bras. What we did is we purchased hotspots and they were able to put them in their bras so that if ever abused on the run needed to get out, they could be connected. And in that time, we also found that there was a lot of bank abuse among our seniors. So we helped them resolve those situations. We put great guardrails around those seniors we could.

And so what does Phe’be do? We show up where people need us.

SCHMITZ:  That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. A little bit more on the Wired 2 Work. It appears that there’s almost an ecosystem of other partners that you may rely on to provide a different aspect of what you do. Do you want to talk about that a bit and how those partnerships work?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: I do. We have partnered or we have access to partners. The one thing about the digital divide is, depending on where service and the red lines are not so disruptive, we tap into different providers…we’ve tapped into digital C, we have tapped into AT&T, we have tapped into Spectrum. Again, every client. What we’re looking for is not just the service that’s available, but the best service that’s available. So we keep our partners broad. I’m looking forward to and I have to give them a shout out. Cox Cable has agreed to come and be a part of our digital navigators team because it’s one thing to give someone a service, it’s another thing to give them a device. But do they know how to use the device? So that’s another piece and component of Wired 2 Work? Yes, definitely.

SCHMITZ: If I could for a moment talk a little bit about personally in your connections to this cause, what has been the most rewarding aspect of what you do? And I know we probably don’t have enough time based on what you shared, but I’d love to hear from you on that.

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: Wow. I see people and they never forget. And they remind me, Ms. Murphy, it was what you said. It was that tough. True financial education design. For me, the most rewarding, if I could say, is our uniqueness to design a financial strategy like a thumbprint. It’s individual. No one has the same approach. The same information can be given. How do I make it fit me, my lifestyle, my income, my goals, and our counselors …

SCHMITZ: That’s great. As you are looking forward. And I know you’ve shared just some imminent challenges, things on the horizon. What would you say? Or maybe your greatest needs, not your greatest needs, the organization’s greatest needs. How do companies and individuals make that right connection to get involved?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: First of all, thank you for that question. Rarely is that question asked to boldly answer the question, look at our website, find a call funded, help, fund it, donate for it, volunteer, come and be trained to be a peer-to-peer coach so that even in your workplace, even in your school, you can have money conversations. Those are some of the coolest conversations to have around wealth wellness. We are getting ready to write a grant because what we know we have to do is scale up. So we’re even looking for some employees. We will be looking for some. And we are willing to train in many of the spaces. We are going to be looking for high-level qualifications in some. But there are a lot of grassroots efforts we do that puts us in the communities that give us that hands on approach. Even when it’s virtual, it can be hands on. And so we would also love what I would really love to create is a community roundtable where there is not only Oswald and Phe’be sitting at the table, but there are who else and who else to bring about a collective conversation to kind of help Phe’be identify what else is needed.

We know the problem, but who needs it and where do they need it and how do we deliver it to that specific population, person? Individuals, definitely.

SCHMITZ: Well, from what we’ve talked about today for the last two decades, so much of what you your volunteers, your partners involved. So much has been done behind the scenes to make a difference. So I’m so fortunate that we’re able to use this platform to spread that message.

I also want to thank Zoe Brown from our team for making that connection and she has some very personal and exciting experiences with your organization. So we’ll continue to spread that message. Is there anything else you want to share before we close today?

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: I want to share that every one of us that’s listening there’s better around the knowledge of our money and education builds confidence and this economic platform and how it is viewed and what’s being viewed is different and it changes.  So don’t forget to date your finances, sit down with a warm cup of coffee and go and date your finances, spend time with them so that they stay with you a little longer, treat it like a relationship.

SCHMITZ:  Well, thanks so much, Sharon. We look forward to following you in the future and staying connected.

MURPHY-WILLIAMS: So thank you so much for having me and enjoy this amazing day and days we have coming.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and web formatting.

Introducing the C to C podcast, an oscast by Oswald production

Commitment to Community is a core value of Oswald; it’s the foundation of who we are and the purpose behind all we do. The C to C podcast provides a platform for nonprofit partners to share their stories and discuss the critical issues facing their clients. Our goal: create a halo effect of service and support, inspiring our audiences to align with causes that speak to them and take action in their companies and communities.

Hosted by Christina Capadona-Schmitz, VP and director of marketing communications and leader for community engagement, this podcast series features in-depth interviews and highlights the good works happening throughout our communities.