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Financial Empowerment

Lewinsville Church and Redeemer Lutheran Church of McLean have partnered to launch a monthly series of panel discussions on “Pathways Out of Poverty in Northern Virginia.” This is the second event in the series held on Sunday, January 16, 2022.

The event features Annamarie Lusardi, Founder and Director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business; Maria Jose Cantoni, Director of the Financial Empowerment Center in Fairfax County, a division of Britepaths, Inc.; and Donna Snyder-White, Vice President for Financial Empowerment at StandByMe (UnitedWay/Delaware). The panel will be moderated by Irene Foster, Professor at the George Washington University.

ABOUT THE EVENT. In this second event of the Pathways series, we examine key barriers to escaping poverty in Northern Virginia: financial illiteracy and high-cost borrowing. Annamarie Lusardi will set the stage by describing how the lack of financial literacy leads to bad financial decisions and financial distress, while financial education can reverse these impacts. Maria Jose Cantoni and Donna Snyder White will share their organizations’ experiences transforming lives through financial coaching and other services. The session moderator, Irene Foster, who has extensive experience in economics education, will moderate the discussion and facilitate attendee Q&A.


Annamaria Lusardi is the University Professor of Economics and Accountancy at the George Washington University School of Business and the founder and academic director of its Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. Prof. Lusardi has won numerous awards for her research, teaching, and policy work in economics and financial literacy. In 2018, she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science (Economics and Business Administration) from the University of Vaasa in Finland and in 2019, she was included in the Forbes list of the 100 successful women in Italy. Dr. Lusardi has served in several policy roles. In 2009, she worked for the Office of Financial Education at the U.S. Treasury. In 2017, she was appointed Director of the Financial Education Committee in charge of designing the national strategy for financial literacy in Italy.

Previously, she taught at Dartmouth College for 20 years, and has also taught at Princeton, Chicago’s Harris and Booth Schools, and Columbia Business School. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University.

María José Cantoni is a licensed Certified Public Accountant with over 20 years of experience at various businesses, from multi-national corporations to small start-ups to non-profits. In her native Argentina, she learned the intricacies of credit risk analysis, managed loan portfolios, and performed audits of large corporations. After moving to the United States, she worked for a start-up, where she saw first-hand the difficulties and challenges faced by entrepreneurs. She is currently the Director of the Financial Empowerment Center at South County in Fairfax County, a division of Britepaths, Inc. María José leads an office with a team of three direct reports, 100 finance-professional volunteers, and more than 20 partners, providing services to more than 2,000 low-income clients per year. She was recognized by United Way of the National Capital Area as the most successful Financial Empowerment Center launched in the history of the program in the region.

Donna Snyder White is the Vice President Financial Empowerment at United Way of Delaware where she oversees several strategic initiatives – including Stand By Me (SBM). For the past decade, SBM, a financial empowerment program, which aims to improve the financial well-being of Delaware residents through free one-on-one coaching. SBM’s collective impact approach works with 16 core implementation partners to deliver a multisector financial coaching strategy in partnership with employers, state agencies, nonprofits, and educational institutions. SBM’s approach continues to gain national recognition for its performance outcomes. Before she joined United Way, Donna worked at Nemours Children’s Health System, Health and Preventions Services Division. In this role, she developed and implemented programs to promote health and disease prevention using population-level approach to physical and emotional wellness. She began her career at the DuPont Company. Donna has a bachelor’s degree from South Carolina State University and an MBA from Wesley College.


Irene R. Foster is Associate Professor of Economics at the George Washington University. Her interests are in the areas of economic education and assessment – and especially how to help at-risk students in economics succeed. Recent work focuses on the key role played by math skills in understanding basic economic concepts, and includes a recent book Basic Math for Principles of Economics with (J. Foster and T. Yezer) and a series of math supplements for introductory economics texts. She has won numerous teaching awards at GW where she serves as the Co-Chair of the Educational Policy and Technology committee of the Faculty Senate. She is Chair of ETS Princeton’s CLEP Economics Committee and a member of advisory boards at College Board and Macmillan. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Economics from the University of Madras, an M.S. in Management from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University