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Accredited Financial Counseling Inaugural Cohort Creates Successful Financial Counselors, Builds Capacity within Social Service Organizations in Pittsburgh

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In Spring of 2019, Neighborhood Allies partnered with Pittsburgh Community Services, Inc. (PCSI) to invest in an inaugural cohort of aspiring financial professionals who would use their skills to give back to the community. With three newly graduated participants and more on the way, we intend to continue deploying accredited financial counselors to the system with our second AFC cohort! The continued addition of counselors to social service agencies throughout the city will build capacity within organizations and allow staff to more fully address clients’ spectrum of financial needs.

Our inaugural cohort recruited aspiring financial counselors from across Allegheny County. Most of the cohort worked in some social service capacity, or as entrepreneurs serving low-income clientele. Scholarships were awarded based on need and the extent to which the applicant was committed to assisting under-served communities. While the bulk of course content is self-taught online, the cohort met monthly at PCSI, sharing life and work experience and reviewing key points from each module. At the end of the course work, each student has to pass a 150 question multiple-choice test and log 1,000 client-facing hours, which can count retroactively or start to accrue after the exam. The cohort wrapped it’s first season in December, with three successfully graduated participants and more scheduled to take their exam in February!

Tamika Barrett

Tamika is the Family Development Coordinator at Open Hand Ministries and also hosts a weekly Circles gathering, an inter-generational anti-poverty program, on Tuesday nights in East Liberty. She is also a licensed teacher and real estate agent! Tamika was compelled to apply for the first cohort so that she could better serve the families she works with. She wanted to ensure that the advice she gave was correct, up-to-date, and certified and engage with a network of colleagues working along the same lines in a meaningful community of practice.

When asked about a challenge she faced during the course, Tamika answered: “It was sometimes hard to pace myself and get through all of the material. Now I strive to find creative ways to convert all this technical knowledge into practical, actionable insights for the families I serve.”

She said that one of her favorite aspects of the cohort was the community it incited.

“I loved hearing about everyone else’s work and the people they serve. Each had a unique set of challenges and had to be creative and innovative to make it work. I took inspiration from their experiences.”

Now that she’s graduated, Tamika plans to continue honing her financial counseling skills and be a life-long learner. She is also stepping up to lead the next cohort of accredited financial counselors in Spring of 2020! You can apply here.

Her advice to future cohort participants?

“Pace yourself, attend the monthly meetings, find as many ways to apply the course content in your current practice. You’ll have to show up to our monthly meetings if you want to hear the rest of my advice!”


Autumn Butler

Autumn Butler is a financial coach by trade, yet applied to the first AFC cohort to see what new things she might learn. Even with formal financial planning education under her belt, she gained some new knowledge from the course to share with clients!

Autumn says that her biggest challenge during the course was learning the counseling aspect of working with clients.

“It’s not enough to know facts and figures about personal finance; it’s important to develop strong relationships with your clients to help guide them to financial stability.”

Like Tamika, Autumn also enjoyed hearing client experiences from the other cohort members. She said that they gave her valuable insight into the reality of working with individuals who are financially struggling.

Now that she’s officially an Accredited Financial Counselor, Autumn intends to continue to pursue her CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation! She plans to study for several months and complete her exam in 2021.

Her advice to future cohort members is to “attend all of the trainings and meetings. In addition to studying and preparing for the AFC exam, you’ll learn a lot from the group discussions at each meeting.”


The AFC Cohort is engineered to clear the path to your AFC certification. Over the next year, a passionate, driven cohort will follow online coursework and work within their current organization (or one of our partners) to satisfy experience hours. Following the exam, this nationally recognized certification grants the bearer the ability to create or work at any financial coaching institution in the United States.We can’t wait for our second cohort to begin!

Want to gain the financial knowledge necessary to guide your customers or clients to financial well-being? Apply HERE for the second Accredited Financial Counseling Cohort by Friday, February 14th at 5 PM! Find more info here.

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