A financial literacy program started two years ago by the Licking County Coalition for Housing (LCCH) is expanding to include 10 counties in central and southeastern Ohio.

A financial literacy program started two years ago by the Licking County Coalition for Housing (LCCH) is expanding to include 10 counties in central and southeastern Ohio.

State Treasurer Richard Cordray will join representatives from Positive Balance and the LCCH at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at OSUN's amphitheater to kick off the expanded Positive Balance initiative.

The program, called Positive Balance, provides financial classes in different locations around Licking County and its financial coaches work one on one with families. In the past two years, the 12 trained coaches have worked with 3,000 adults on personal finance issues and helped 900 individuals and families through problems associated with home foreclosures, financial scams and lending issues, according to Shane Lightle, Positive Balance director.

"We're trying to change long-term behavior which has to be measured a couple years out," Lightle said. "We've only been around for two years, but we do a nine-month follow-up. Eighty-percent of our clients have shown improvement in one fundamental financial behavior or more, so we know in the long term we're making some positive impact."

Lightle said the program partners with local agencies to provide specific financial counseling to help the agency's client base. At the Ohio State University at Newark (OSUN), for example, college students are taught to avoid credit-card debt and to manage their finances so they don't graduate with a large amount of debt. At Opportunity Links, a local organization that helps unemployed people find jobs, the Positive Balance volunteers teach about making ends meet on a reduced income. At other places where people are struggling financially, the volunteers talk about ways to get out of debt and become more financially independent.

Funding for Positive Balance has been provided through the Ohio Community Service Council, and volunteers have been provided through AmeriCorps, a national service program that provides funding for full-time employees working in education, public safety and health and on environmental issues.

Lightle said each partner providing a site for Positive Balance also has participated in funding, such as OSUN, Opportunity Links, Licking Metropolitan Housing Authority, Licking County Veterans Service Commission, Licking County Alcohol Prevention Program, Licking County United Way, Licking County Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Licking County Justice Center.

When Positive Balance expands in September, the number of trained financial coaches will increase from 12 to 30 and 10 new agencies will become partners. The new partners include Southeast Ohio Legal Services, Fairfield County Financial Stability Partnership, United Way of Central Ohio, Ohio Regional Development Corp., Ross County Community Action Corp., Ross County Department of Job and Family Services, Community Action Organization of Delaware, Madison and Union counties and Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People.

The Ohio Community Service Council also has increased funding, and partners like Park National Bank and National City Bank have joined the program.

Lightle said he is writing applications for a grant through the Internal Revenue Service.

"More financial institutions slowly are coming on board because they realize in the long term it costs them less if people are financially educated," Lightle said.

Positive Balance also has partnered with Cordray, who's been campaigning for financial literacy for years.

"He's been working on this issue for a lot of years, and it's one he's inherently passionate about," Lightle said.

Cordray recently formed the Save Our Homes Task Force to help people losing their homes through foreclosure and is the person who sponsored legislation to create AmeriCorps in Ohio.

Cordray called the Positive Balance program an excellent example of community service.

"Having more people on the ground armed with valuable information translates into an increase in the overall financial literacy of Ohioans and therefore greater financial stability for our state as a whole," he said.

Lightle said if the program continues to be successful, it could continue to grow and add more partners, possibly applying for federal funding.

"A lot of people aren't going to get host members because of funding limitations," he said. "If we choose to grow, we're going to have to change our funding strain."