Helping Immigrants Get Ahead

These MONEY heroes help newcomers to the country regain their professional standing and learn crucial lessons about personal finance.

  • Helping Foreign-Trained Doctors

    Wilhelmina Holder, 68,

    Executive Director, Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment

    In 1985 — five years after her father, the president of Liberia, was assassinated — Holder, a doctor then facing threats to her own family, fled to Minnesota.

    Lacking time and money to retrain for a license, Holder instead raised her four children, then in 2004 started a program to help other immigrant medical professionals get recertified.

    The program has assisted 250 people from more than 50 countries; about 45 are medical residents or fully licensed. Holder also advocates locally and nationally for more residency slots for foreign-trained doctors.

    “These educated medical professionals should be saving lives, not driving taxicabs,” says Holder.

  • Teaching Personal Finance – in Chinese

    Jamie Woo, 62,

    Community outreach manager, Consumer Action

    Woo, a stay-at-home mom who emigrated from Taiwan in the 1980s, didn’t even know how to write a check when her husband died in 1989. Now she helps others in similar straits.

    After working at nonprofits in San Francisco’s Chinese community, in 2006 she began teaching personal finance basics through workshops, brochures, and a monthly show on a Chinese-language radio station.

    Fluent in four dialects, she spends 50 hours a week talking to groups and individuals about everything from scams to changing health care laws.

    “When I go into a store, people recognize my voice. Women will say, ‘Are you the one who talks about identity theft?’,” says Woo.

  • You Can Help Out

    It’s easier than you think to help other people with their finances. These strategies can get you started.

    Get training. Think you aren’t money-smart enough to help out? Relax — many organizations will coach you first.

    You could help households with their taxes through the IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, or teach kids about money via Junior Achievement or Operation HOPE.

    Take things personally. An issue that has touched you or a loved one is a cause you’re more likely to stick with, says Dave Phillips, whose work on a networking group for Detroit IT professionals made him a 2013 MONEY Hero.

    Find opportunities using the website; searching for “money,” “taxes,” or “health” will help pinpoint your cause.

    Get help at work. It may be easier than you think to get your employer onboard. American Airlines, for one, has assisted several employee financial initiatives, such as a veteran-support program.

    Ask colleagues over lunch what financial issues they worry about, then explain to HR “why it’s great and why it’s important” to help out, says Consumer Federation of America’s Katie Bryan. — Ryan Derousseau

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