Surrounded by desks, whiteboards and handmade, multi-colored crafts, Walter Gatlin is in his natural element. The Hattiesburg resident and Hancock Whitney financial center leader is a common sight in local school hallways and in the offices of DREAM of Hattiesburg, Inc., where Gatlin teams up with the nonprofit's staff and fellow volunteers to chat with youth that are experiencing school or social issues.
Walter Gatlin volunteers his time and expertise to help the next generation build strong financial futures.
"You never know the true impact of how you can help someone until you help them," said Gatlin, as he pondered the four-year volunteer experience with DREAM. "Since being with Hancock Whitney, I've come to understand that my community is much bigger, with more diverse needs."
DREAM is a state-certified 501(c)3 youth initiative, created to promote healthy change through substance abuse prevention. The organization has carried on its mission for over 25 years, providing resources which include evidence-based programming for children and youth in high-risk environments and schools in South Mississippi, such as Community Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol, Positive Action, Project Towards No Drugs, Project Northland: Amazing Alternatives/Slick Tracy and Life Skills.
Gatlin’s involvement with the group began in 2016, when his manager, Lisa Salcedo, a Hancock Whitney Regional Sales Leader, approached him with an idea.
“She came up to me and said, ‘I think you’d be a great fit for DREAM and would love the kind of commitment they have for the community,’ and asked me to go along with her to see how she’s involved and what volunteering opportunities look like in a corporate setting. When I saw how passionate she was about her work, it inspired me,” said Gatlin.
In this volunteer role, Gatlin empowers children and young adults with financial education resources and information, ranging from budgeting 101, to check-writing, to opening a savings or checking account. Not all children and youth share Gatlin’s early fascination with accounting and banking, nor are they all introduced to early healthy money habits. One of the most impactful lessons for these young people is understanding the role financial health plays in the “big picture” of their lives.
Gatlin and his manager Lisa Salcedo share important money tips with local nonprofits.
“As a young child, my parents always tried to teach me the value of the dollar and that you have to work hard for what you want. I just feel like a lot of families don't have that kind of opportunity or the resources to do so,” said Gatlin.
One such financial newcomer was Mason, 18, now a DREAM alumni. The young man shared his aspirations with Gatlin, envisioning a future filled with personal accomplishments and security. The financial center leader was incredibly touched by the DREAMer’s openness and vulnerability, and immediately dove into long-term planning with him.
“We discussed credit issues, budgeting, and I gave him advice on his current job. We discussed his saving money for a car and how to maintain a budget for insurance, repairs, etc. We put together a budget for school, and also equipped him with a credit card for emergencies,” said Gatlin.
Mason continues to make progress toward each of his goals, and the two have now forged a bond that extends beyond mere education.
“Financial goals are incredibly important. We want you to understand what you’re getting yourself into because we don’t want you to fail. We want you to be successful in every step of life,” said Gatlin.
This same sense of outreach and community spirit doesn’t just apply to volunteer programs. Gatlin’s financial center also nurtures the dreams of many clients, who range widely in age and come from a variety of backgrounds.
Gatlin recalls the time a client approached him directly, asking for his help. The client had become mired in a pool of payday loans and credit union debts, which held him back financially to the point of regret. “He needed to see a way out of it,” said Gatlin, “A way to get out of this hole. We worked together to come up with a plan for debt consolidation and help him overcome this struggle — it’s those situations that motivate me.”
He urges others to allow themselves space for sharing and vulnerability — even outside of corporate volunteerism — by first simply observing the needs of the community, then “putting themselves out there, and in other people’s shoes."
Gatlin works to pave pathways to financial independence while forging strong friendships along the way.
“It’s just a great feeling to give back to the community, friends, family, and complete strangers and just know you’re doing something right.”