FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellow Profile - Dawn Torres-Gale
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“I have enjoyed this work very much, particularly when I am able to help a servicemember or their spouse change their thinking about money management.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Dawn Torres-Gale grew up in a single parent household with a tight household budget. Although her mother was a university graduate, managing a household on a small salary was always a challenge.
"We had a 'feast or famine’ relationship with money—we would spend when we had it and scrimp when we didn’t," Dawn said. "On the positive side, my mother insisted on being self-sufficient and always paid her bills on time—even if it was only a minimum payment."
As a very young adult, Dawn experienced some struggles with credit and debt. After she began working on completing her undergraduate degree, she realized she needed to take steps to get her finances under control. By the time she met her husband, Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gale (US Coast Guard) in 2000, she had already achieved her goal.
"Over several years, through hard work and lots of sacrifice, I was able to turn my financial situation around," Dawn said. "When I first met my husband, all that was left of my previous debt was a small college loan balance."
Through the lessons learned from her own personal financial situation, Dawn became interested in serving as an advocate for others. In 2002, Dawn and her family made a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move to Honolulu, Hawaii. Shortly after arriving, Dawn became a certified volunteer mediator and spent a year volunteering as a court-appointed mediator in the Small Claims division in Honolulu District Court.
"It was during my service as a mediator that I became acutely aware of the financial problems that servicemembers and their families faced," Dawn said. "I was shocked at the level of misunderstanding that many servicemembers had when it came to binding contracts and other financial transactions, because I had always had the impression that the military offered a lot more educational resources for financial literacy than were available to civilians."
This experience in court inspired Dawn to apply for the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program, especially since it offered the potential for a new career path.
"After moving to Massachusetts, I looked for work as a mediator but found that it was very hard to compete with licensed attorneys—even though I now had earned both a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration." Dawn said.
To gain experience toward her financial counselor accreditation, Dawn worked with both the Massachusetts National Guard and a national non-profit organization, Operation Homefront.
"I have enjoyed this work very much, particularly when I am able to help a servicemember or their spouse change their thinking about money management," Dawn said.
Dawn’s passion for financial education also grew outside of the military community. When her oldest daughter started high school and began to manage her own finances, Dawn realized that her daughter wasn’t receiving the type of financial education that she needed to be successful. In response, Dawn gave a presentation to the school board requesting they make the completion of a financial literacy course a high school graduation requirement. The board considered her proposal, though the current budget climate prevented it from passing at the time.
"I realized that it would take more than just my single presentation to make financial literacy education a reality at my daughter’s high school," Dawn said. "I decided I would win a seat on the school board and work diligently to bring attention to the need for financial education for youth. After a lot of hard work, I am proud to say that I succeeded in a very close race."
As a school committee member, Dawn facilitated a partnership between her school district and a local non-profit to offer a specific financial literacy curriculum, for middle and high school math teachers, designed to be integrated with Algebra I concepts. As the partnership evolves, the math teachers in the school district will be using the curriculum in their classes in the fall of 2012.
Currently, Dawn is networking and writing articles on personal finance while she looks for opportunities to work as a newly accredited financial counselor. She also serves on the Massachusetts Financial Education Collaborative, a K-16 financial literacy working group, sponsored by the Midas Group and the Boston Federal Reserve Bank.