Knowledge Is Power: One Man’s Quest to Spread Financial Literacy

Daily Point of Light # 7480 Feb 2, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Paul Baccus. Read his story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

Volunteering has been part of Paul’s life since childhood, when his mother and her coworkers would adopt and shop for a family in need. Paul remembers that the families would ask for simple things, like a blanket. As an adult, Paul worked and went to school full-time. Thinking back to his mother’s financial struggles, he realized that financial knowledge is critical. “My first financial education was the school of hard knocks,” he laughs. He recognizes that his life definitely could have been easier had he had that basic knowledge sooner.  

Today, Paul helps Americans, such as the 60% who don’t have $400 cash for emergencies, and whose $100 payday loans can quickly spiral to over $800 in fees and interest — a dangerous downward spiral that keeps people in poverty and on the brink of losing everything.  

Paul’s motto is, “Knowledge is power.” His mission is to help people create a lower cost of living and improve their lives through better money habits and financial literacy. Most of all, he gives them hope for a better future. He is proud to have been named the Pathfinders Volunteer Financial Coach of the Year, a Corporate Volunteer of the Year and a Global Community Volunteer award winner.  

What inspires you to volunteer? 

The fact that people don’t know what they don’t know. I survived an aneurysm and a stroke, and two years of physical therapy was a reminder that while I was facing a challenge, I hadn’t lost the ability to work, speak or function. I probably shouldn’t be here, but I am here and it’s my duty to help others. 

Describe your volunteer role with Pathfinders. 

I have been volunteering with Pathfinders for 10+ years. I deliver financial education to the Arlington Life Shelter, a homeless shelter in Arlington. I deliver a five-week series with the same cohort covering budgeting, banking, borrowing and credit, with the last session ending in an individual coaching session.  

I coordinate the sessions with the shelter, facilitate all of the sessions and provide coaching to shelter residents. Pathfinders even matches the first $100 when clients open a savings account! 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

I am not just educating. I am driving behavior change, emphasizing that what hasn’t worked in the past won’t work in the future, but something else can work. One of the greatest rewards has been helping people believe that they can achieve. In many cases they don’t believe they can. They don’t believe there’s a way out so I help them focus and get them back to the basics and give them a map and tools they can use to create a better financial future.  

The letters I’ve received make it all worthwhile. For example, one from a child whose father attended a financial training session was impactful. I hear things like, “Where were you when I was in high school? My life would have been so different!” My favorite has to be, “You’re like an app! I need to put you in my pocket!” 

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

I can’t take for granted that people know even the basics of personal finance. They don’t know what they don’t know, until they know.  

Are there any future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about? 

I am also on the Board of Directors at 6 Stones. Our Community Power of Revitalization, or CPR program, will be transforming 18-22 homes in a single weekend with an all-volunteer crew. The recipients, who are often elderly and unable to properly care for their homes or pay for upkeep, can now be proud of where they live and feel hope.  

As a Better Money Habits (BMH) Champion, I have the opportunity to share more financial education with others. 

Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved?   

Tomorrow’s not promised. It’s important to meet people where they are and help them get where they want to go. I have gotten to where I need to be — in a position to help others. 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

Never give up. No matter how hard something appears, there’s a way out — you just have to find it. The most sobering time for me was after my aneurysm and stroke. Suddenly, I couldn’t tell time. My life flashed before me and I remember thinking, “What am I not going to be able to do now?” We take our abilities for granted even though they could be gone in an instant. But even though I was afraid about my future, I kept going.   

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Paul? Find local volunteer opportunities.  

Jarmila Gorman