If Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg can have a financial adviser, so too can Salvation Army clients.

As part of its new Families@Home program, the nonprofit will match "family mentors" — bank executives, retired accountants and other financial experts — with families in financial straits.

"Initially, we'd say do you have a set of questions you might want to ask a finance professional?" said Charles Roberts, the nonprofit's Suffolk County coordinator. "Then they can decide on their own what kind of depth they can go into ... People would gain a trust level and talk about the details of their financial struggles and work out scenarios that would give them more success than they've had in the past."

The idea came after Roberts' office got more than a thousand calls in three days last year from laid-off people who wanted a piece of a $22,000 grant from Target to help pay utilities, rent and mortgage.

"We got mobbed," the coordinator recalled. "We went through that funding in about a day and a half. That really gave us a clue as to the level of need out there."

It was either feed people for a day or teach them how to survive more than a day, so the nonprofit's Suffolk chapter launched Families@Home in January with $125,000 from the Knapp Swezey Foundation in Patchogue. Under the program, people who are unemployed or underemployed go to financial education classes and get money for rent, mortgage and utilities. Families who want mentors would get their matches later this year.

"Everybody has programs where we're helping people, but sometimes that help is short term or it's emergency," Roberts said. "We want to couple that with a means to have folks see some sustainability. I really think that in this day and age, people who long to donate money to programs want to hear about the sustainability or a return on their investment."
Roberts said almost all the Families@Home funding has been used, and the Salvation Army is trying to get donations to keep the program running.

Donors and those who wish to be a financial mentor can reach the nonprofit at 631-363-6100.

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