A retired engineer learns by helping others

Teaching money management led to newfound evangelism

by Pam Robinson | Presbyterians Today

Retirement for Jim Bartlett involves more than having time to zipline with his wife, Pat. Bartlett teaches financial management to those in his Indiana community. Courtesy of Pam Robinson

When lifelong Presbyterian Jim Bartlett retired in 2007, he followed where the Lord directed his steps to help his neighbors in Mount Vernon, Indiana, his home for the past 40 years. Taking that road has made all the difference for his community and for his faith.

A Habitat for Humanity coordinator, Bartlett was asked to speak about community resources to the first Neighbor to Neighbor class in Mount Vernon. He was invited to attend as a participant in the second class. Soon, he joined the facilitator team to help lead classes.

Neighbor to Neighbor is a faith-based financial management program developed and piloted by Catholic Charities in Evansville, Indiana. It aims to help participants set healthy short-term and long-term goals to improve their financial wellness. To graduate, participants in Mount Vernon may miss only two biweekly evening sessions of the seven-week program. Their incentive is a stipend to pay a bill or bills of their choice. By the end of the course, as Bartlett discusses, participants walk away with much more than a check made out to a creditor.

“We have seen only a few people graduate for the money. I don’t think you help people by writing a check. I think you help people by being able to talk with them, share with them and empathize with them,” he said.

Each class begins with a prayer for guidance. Participants are encouraged to seek God’s guidance as they progress through the course — and through life. Course facilitators share faith lessons from their own lives. Bartlett says what he has learned the most is how to approach people from socioeconomic backgrounds much different than his own and identify with their issues.

“Our issues are no different regardless of who we are,” he said. “It was uplifting to have different people come together in an atmosphere of trust. It is a brief look at what Kingdom living is all about.”

The various topics covered in the Neighbor to Neighbor course include knowing the difference between wants and needs, understanding purchasing choices, delaying gratification and goal setting, the latter being the main purpose of the course, says Bartlett.

The first class in Mount Vernon ended with eight graduates. From its inception in 2007 to the end of 2019, the Neighbor to Neighbor program boasted 25 classes (usually two each year, spring and fall) and a total of 190 graduates.

More communities would benefit from the Neighbor to Neighbor program, Bartlett believes, especially with the economic burdens people carry because of COVID-19, and the program continues in spite of the challenges of the pandemic. In 2020, the spring class was canceled, but the fall class commenced with participants wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Bartlett has a passion for extending a hand to help his neighbors in Mount Vernon since he has lived there longer than anywhere else. Born in the Netherlands to an oil executive, Bartlett moved with his family from Europe to Bahrain and Canada before coming to the U.S. He was 8 years old when the family settled in Westchester County, New York.

His first memory of church places him at Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church in the town of Pelham Manor, New York. His family remained there until Bartlett’s senior year in high school when his father was transferred to Japan. There, he met his future bride, Pat, the daughter of missionary parents.

After graduating from Dartmouth College, Bartlett returned to Japan to marry his high school sweetheart. Her father performed the wedding ceremony in 1973.

An engineering graduate, Bartlett believes his project management experience with General Electric, his sole employer, helped prepare him to serve as a facilitator in Neighbor to Neighbor. “Engineers like to solve problems,” he said, “and they think they are problem solvers.”

Perhaps his greatest strengths, however, lie in his living by example and practicing his faith. His first assignment with General Electric took him and his new bride to Philadelphia. “We drove into Philadelphia with everything we owned in a Datsun 1200 car,” Bartlett recalled. “That’s a 1200 cc engine, not much bigger than a motorcycle engine, 69 horsepower.”

Bartlett knows what it means to start a life from square one and grow financial well-being, so he could easily discuss his financial management with Neighbor to Neighbor participants. Combining this knowledge with a faith testimony, though, proved more difficult for him. He had discussed his faith in Sunday school among believers at First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon, but he had never witnessed to an unfamiliar audience.

“Never in a million years would I have envisioned myself standing in front of people I don’t know, telling them what I believe about my faith. Engineers rarely talk about their faith — Presbyterian engineers, especially,” he said. “It’s not thumping the Bible or anything like that. It’s telling people we’re all the same, sharing our problems and showing people how things can work for them. That’s why I’ve loved this program. To me, Neighbor to Neighbor has given a whole new meaning to evangelism.”

Pam Robinson is a freelance writer in Mount Vernon, Indiana.

Learn more

You can learn more about the Neighbor to Neighbor program at ccevansville.org/neighbor-to-neighbor.html

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