Claude Rwaganje may be soft-spoken and humble in his demeanor, but he gives tough love and firm advice to his students: Save money, invest in your future and live within your means rather than on credit cards.

As director of Community Financial Literacy, Rwaganje’s goal is to teach financial skills to immigrant and refugees in Maine. With free classes and one-on-one counseling, Rwaganje gives people the financial knowledge they need to create a life for themselves and avoid predatory lending and high-cost financial services.

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“What’s foremost in his mind is helping others,” said Greg Hansel, chairman of the board of Community Financial Literacy and a partner with the law firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios. “His group is all about serving others, about getting people on their feet in America.”

Community Financial Literacy started about five years ago as members of immigrant communities discussed their biggest challenges in coming to the U.S. They found that lack of knowledge of financial skills often interfered with many new immigrants’ efforts to integrate into American culture, Rwaganje said.

Rwaganje himself immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“He’s been through the experience himself and tried to get his arms around the American financial system. Americans who are born here have enough trouble with it without having the trauma that refugees experience and coming from communities that don’t trust banks,” Hansel said. “He’s a visionary who created a way to solve a problem.”