Integrating financial empowerment

Dollar bills with whistleWe are thrilled to announce that the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) – with funding from Bank of America Charitable Foundation – has invited Solid Ground to participate in a new financial empowerment Intensive Learning Cluster! The 18-month program launched in January 2014 in Washington D.C. Judy Poston, the current project coordinator and Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coordinator, and Joy Scott, Supportive Services Manager, attended.

Last March, Solid Ground completed a six-month Intensive Learning Cluster with CFED. The original goal of the first Learning Cluster was the implementation of a financial empowerment plan.

However, the project leadership team – including Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director and project point person at the time, and Judy Poston – soon realized that one standard model would not apply across the entire range of programs and services offered by Solid Ground.

The Learning Cluster became an opportunity to develop a model of financial empowerment that can be integrated into all aspects of our work. “We held focus groups,” Kira explains, “assessed where we were at, what staff was interested in, what they were doing, and what they wanted to do more of; we needed to know how we wanted to move forward. It’s always challenging to bring a service to scale at that level – to bring it across the organization – when that can mean so many things for the different programs with different services and needs.”

Kira and Judy were able to create a framework that included four key opportunity areas and action steps. These areas will be the focus of the new Learning Cluster this year.

The first area focuses on enhancing staff skills to build knowledge of and confidence in personal finances so all staff – from administrative to frontline – can better serve the community. A toolkit of resources and a refined referral system of financial services will act as guidelines for the integration of the financial empowerment plan. The final area will focus on program metrics to track progress and assess the needs of the community.

Kira explains that it is important for Solid Ground to incorporate financial empowerment because “it does carry throughout the work that we do to truly overcome poverty. Within the communities that we serve through our programs at Solid Ground, and even the different programs offering different services, there’s always the component of stability, independence, and financial security.

“We want to help folks work with the resources they have and build upon family strengths. We want to meet basic needs, but beyond that we want to talk about income and asset development – so they’re not only making ends meet, but feel confident and are able to thrive financially and move forward in other areas.”

And all of this, Judy sums up, “can help to end the cycle of generational poverty.”

Financial empowerment Intensive Learning Cluster update

art by Rainer Waldman Atkins

art by Rainer Waldman Atkins

Last October, Solid Ground entered into a very exciting partnership with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Solid Ground was selected, along with four other organizations nationally, to participate in an Intensive Learning Cluster allowing us to work on further integrating financial empowerment into the services provided through Solid Ground.

Our goal is strengthening the economic security of the families and individuals we serve, and addressing deep-rooted issues that face households getting by on low incomes in our communities.

This Learning Cluster came to a close in March and we are now charged with keeping the momentum going and using all of the tools and new ideas that were raised throughout the last six months.

The highlights of this experience and some of our lessons learned along the way are featured in a brief published by CFED and posted on the CFED blog.

Financial Empowerment yields compound interest

Remember “Home Ec” classes? At high schools across the country, students learned about household finances: how to save money for a rainy day, how a loan works, and what compound interest does.

Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Over time, we’ve seen financial management get more complicated and financial literacy training harder to come by. How you handle your money is a critical skill set for anyone. But for people living in poverty and facing or experiencing homelessness, it can be the key to transforming their future.

For years Solid Ground has supported clients in gaining these financial empowerment skills in a classroom setting or through one-on-one coaching. But these formats have limited our ability to reach a broad section of the community.

Now, thanks to a partnership with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), Solid Ground is part of a unique national Intensive Learning Cluster to develop ways to integrate financial empowerment throughout the breadth of our programs.

Solid Ground was selected as one of five agencies from across the country to participate in a six-month pilot project with CFED, which was launched with a four-day gathering in Washington D.C. this fall. Judy Poston, Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Coordinator, went to the kick-off and gave this report:

The purpose of the Intensive Learning Cluster is to work with CFED staff – as well as the other four agencies – to come up with ideas to successfully integrate financial empowerment education in all Solid Ground programs. We hope to take a holistic approach to this process that will teach people how to build personal assets and become financially empowered.

One of the most inspiring parts of the conference was keynote speaker Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ. His keynote speech challenged and called us all to action to continue financial empowerment work so that all Americans can learn to be self-sufficient.

The five agencies are looking at how we can build on best practices to integrate financial empowerment education into all of our programs. That way everyone will have a chance to achieve the American dream. At Solid Ground, this means we’re looking into developing a common intake process, tracking long-term outcomes, and getting staff buy-in to the process.

There will be a lot of discussion on how to get our staff to willingly buy-in to this model when, perhaps, their own finances might not be in great shape, or they might feel overwhelmed at being asked to add one more duty to an already full workload.

Among our next steps:

1) CFED staff will come to Solid Ground in January, 2013 to work with our staff as we develop our financial empowerment plan.

2) We’ll hold a focus group composed of housing staff who have attended the Burst for Prosperity Financial Coaching Training to discuss how they see themselves implementing financial empowerment into their work with folks we serve.

3) We’ll share powerful, successful client stories, being cheerleaders as well as advocates for this implementation process.

I am thankful to work with folks who are so dedicated and compassionate. And I am confident in our joint success as we work together to deliver financial empowerment services to everyone we serve.

Participating in the Intensive Learning Cluster represents just one of the ways Solid Ground is working to infuse all of our services with best practices learned from across the agency’s 30 programs and services to increase the synergy of our work. That means the people who come to us for temporary housing, nutrition education, legal support or other services will get the full benefit of all of our programs. Now that’s what we call compound interest!

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