40th Anniversary Timeline: 2001 a year of tragedy & hope


2001

Looking back at the year 2001, it is hard to remember anything other than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. A few other historical bullet points:

  • George W. Bush was sworn in as President.
  • The Congressional Budget Office projected a $5.6 trillion dollar federal budget surplus over the next 10 years!
  • The Taliban began destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
  • In the Netherlands, the Act on the Opening up of Marriage went into effect, which allowed same-sex couples to marry legally for the first time in the world since the reign of Nero.
  • Locally, the Seattle Mariners set a record for winning baseball games, but flamed out in the playoffs.
  • The Nisqually earthquake shook the Seattle region, causing significant damage in Pioneer Square.

Financial Fitness 2001

For Solid Ground it was a time of piloting new ways of responding to the changing needs of our community.

We developed the Financial Skills Education program, later renamed Financial Fitness Boot Camp. The program offers money management classes, skill-building workshops and personal support for families working to attain financial and housing stability. Over the past few years, the program has been part of a national Learning Cluster to develop best practices for the field.

Working Wheels 2001Recognizing that lack of affordable transportation was a barrier to accessing well-paying jobs, in 2001 we partnered with Port Jobs to launch Working Wheels. This program received used fleet cars from the Port and the City of Seattle, as well as donations from private donors. The cars were brought up to safety and service standards by our Transportation Department mechanics and sold at affordable prices to people who needed a car to get or keep a job. We partnered with a local credit union to get favorable loan rates, and even provided ongoing maintenance through the short-lived Community Garage. Working Wheels was closed in 2009, a victim of changing economic conditions that made municipalities hold on to their fleet vehicles longer, and made fundraising for the program more challenging.

Undoing Racism 2001

2001 is also the year Solid Ground committed to undoing institutional racism:

  • Trained staff in Undoing Institutional Racism and cultural competency.
  • Formed a multi-racial staff-driven Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) to organize internally and begin to identify and prioritize anti-racism actions to better serve our clients.
  • Engaged staff and community members to recognize and take action against racism in our own lives and communities.

Responsible Lending 2001Additionally, our advocacy work ramped up its efforts to address predatory lending in 2001. The Statewide Poverty Action Network was a founding member of the Seattle/King County Coalition for Responsible Lending (SKCCRL), which increased awareness of and helped consumers avoid predatory loans, and worked with local lenders to increase affordable loan options without limiting credit access. Our staff  served on the founding SKCCRL steering committee and were active on its committees.

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Financial Fitness Tip: Time for a spring financial checkup

Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp and ConnectUp are working together to send out  financial fitness tips like these a few times a month through the ConnectUp Resource Wire and will re-post them here on the Solid Ground blog.

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach JudySpring is almost here, and it’s a good time to get a checkup regarding your financial fitness. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you experiencing anxiety around your bills and payments from the holidays?
  • Are you preparing your taxes or at least thinking about it? (April 15th is just around the corner!)
  • Are you tracking your spending using a budget or spending plan?
  • How much are you saving each month for emergencies?

Well, the above sounds like a lot to do and can be stressful. Using these questions, make a list, or what is referred to as a “Financial Fitness Action Plan.” Prioritize what is most important to you and write a statement explaining why it is important to you. Next, decide what your action steps will be to meet each objective. Who will you contact for information or clarification? Make sure you have a pen and paper handy when calling so you can write down who you spoke to and what you spoke about.

It’s close to tax time. Don’t fret; there are many sites that can prepare your taxes for free. Get all of your documents together so that your time and the preparer’s time will be well spent. To find a free tax preparation site near you, call 2.1.1 and tell the operator that you want information about free tax preparation services. Or text the word TAX and your 5-digit zip code to 313131 or email EITC@uwkc.org or visit United Way’s Tax Help website.

You might say that you don’t have enough money to save. Well, start with $5. The point is, “just do it!”

We would like to invite you all to call the Financial Fitness Boot Camp at either 206.694.6739 or 206.694.6776 and make an appointment to come and see one of Solid Ground’s financial counselors. They can pull your credit report for free, teach you how to develop a budget/spending plan, and teach you how to read your credit report and what to do if you need to dispute an item. They would be happy to assist you with whatever you want to focus on to help you reach your financial fitness goals! Don’t delay, call today!

Seattle employs financial empowerment to help families thrive

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp’s Coach Judy

Seattle will be the first city on the West Coast to open no-cost Financial Empowerment Centers. Solid Ground will partner with Neighborhood House to provide a satellite center, likely at Sand Point Housing at Magnuson Park, in order to offer easy access to financial counseling for families and individuals in our transitional and permanent housing programs. 

One-on-one counseling will help people reduce debt, build credit, guard against predatory lending practices, understand foreclosure, and protect against fraud. Asset development coaching and budgeting will lower monthly costs, increase income, buffer against sudden crises, and prepare people for retirement.

Seattle’s program is modeled after the first financial empowerment pilot, launched in 2008 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The original pilot, according to the foundation, has helped over 19,000 families reduce their debt by more than $9 million.

Six Financial Empowerment Centers will open in 2014, with the main full-time site stationed at Neighborhood House in Rainier Vista. Each center will be positioned close to or within social service facilities that can offer additional resources for those living on low-incomes. Additional offices will be located at NewHolly, the Jim Wiley Community Center, YWCA Opportunity Place and North Seattle Community College.

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation provided a three year grant for the project, and is partnering with City of Seattle, Neighborhood House and United Way.

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves more than just helping people living on low-incomes make ends meet. At Solid Ground, we want people to be healthy, happy and build the skills they need to thrive.

In the coming year, we will implement our own plan to integrate financial empowerment into social service delivery at Solid Ground, developed during a six-month financial empowerment Learning Cluster hosted by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). And with the support from CFED through an 18-month Learning Cluster that began this month, our plan will provide the education and tools people living on low and moderate incomes need to move beyond just surviving to a place of stability, self-sufficiency and financial health.

September 2013 Groundviews newsletter: Holding herself accountable

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our September 2013 lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon’s world flipped upside down when she finally got the courage to divorce her abusive husband, leaving her with nothing but her two children and a mountain of debt.

She says, “I just wanted him out – so I took the mortgage, I took all the debt, while he took everything else. He took the money; he took my stuff. So I essentially had to start over.” To make that new start possible, she filed for bankruptcy in 2010. 

But as a survivor of domestic violence, a veteran and an LPN who spent five intense years working in hospice care, Sally Mary now found herself physically and emotionally unable to work full time. She says, “I carried other people’s trauma, so it added to my own personal baggage.”

Sally Mary and her kids were living in transitional housing when she took a money management class at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Women’s Trauma & Recovery Center in Seattle, taught by Judy Poston, Program Supervisor of Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp. Sally Mary says, “I was really skeptical at first. The thing was, I didn’t have any money to manage! But then she presented on credit – writing your creditors and asking them to reduce your debt or eliminate it – and also going over your credit report and what can be done about it.”  

She’s there for me
Even after finding out that financial empowerment services were available to her, Sally Mary says, “It was really hard to ask for help. Because I’ve always done everything myself. There is a stigma that surrounds me, that when you have a handout, it’s bad. I felt incapable; I felt worthless.”

She changed her tune after a few one-to-one sessions with Judy, realizing, “It really isn’t bad. When I had my hand out, she didn’t put stuff on my hand – she held my hand! She essentially led me! I’ve learned through her that I don’t have to be ashamed. I’m not the only one that goes through this. And she’s constantly telling me that she’s there for me, which is great. Every time I look back, she’s right behind!”

As a financial coach, Judy says she’s learned from Sally Mary the importance of establishing relationships when working with vets. “A lot of people who have PTSD, the most important thing is to not be time consumed – to be willing to sit and listen to their story – even if you never talk about finances the first two or three appointments. Building trust is huge.”

Sally Mary agrees, “You definitely did that for me, because I wouldn’t have been able to open up the way I did. I am very grateful that I met Judy and for Financial Fitness Boot Camp being available. She’s very willing to listen and be open, and you’re absolutely not judgmental.”

Through Judy, Sally Mary found she qualified for a continuum of housing stabilization programs. “She was essentially a gateway to everything I’ve been doing with Solid Ground.” And Sally Mary says when she was granted VA Supportive Housing, “I needed not only help learning how to manage the money that I have and prioritizing what bills to pay, I was able to get help in a down payment for housing.” 

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

A reciprocal relationship
From the beginning of her engagement with Solid Ground, Sally Mary has been an asset, referring other vets to our services and connecting Judy with helpful information. Judy says, “She’s a walking resource book; when I have questions about VA/vets’ resources, this is who I can call.”

After hearing Sally Mary’s story, Judy connected her with Solid Ground’s advocacy efforts through the Statewide Poverty Action Network. Sally Mary spoke out on public radio about her struggles getting a checking account and her experiences with predatory debt collection practices (known as Zombie Debt). She says when she filed for bankruptcy, all of her debt (except for student loans and parking/traffic tickets) should have been dismissed, but “I literally have three debts that keep coming back to me through different creditors. It never fails, every three months there’s a new company contacting me. That’s not fair. If I did my part, why do they have to keep bringing back my old debt?”

She also spoke about predatory lending and how – thanks to Judy’s advice – she avoided the payday loan trap. Sally Mary says she was excited to get involved with Poverty Action because, “There are so many big people speaking for other big people, so I feel like us little people gotta stick together, because there’s a lot more of us. I see us as ants: As people, we carry a huge strength among us, and as we work together as a group, we can definitely move mountains.”

A work in progress
But despite moving her own financial mountains, Sally Mary is hard on herself. She says, “At this point, I think I’m a work in progress. I’ll admit it: I have this cycle of spending. When I feel ashamed, I go and buy something, and I feel good – but then I feel bad that I’ve spent the money and I feel shameful again.” Breaking into an infectious laugh, she says, “Judy gives me a lot of great ideas. Half of them I’ve implemented. I do try to be cognizant of what I’m doing, but it’s hard to remain honest with myself when no one’s holding me accountable.” Ever the coach, Judy counters, “I always like to tell Sally Mary that she has to hold herself accountable; that’s where it all starts. And I’m here as a support.”

Then Judy rattles off many ways Sally Mary has been accountable: “You’ve identified that you’re going to save this much per month – what it’s going to take to put that amount in the bank every month. You made the choices, and you’ve stuck with everything that we talked about and that you planned to do.” Sally agrees, “I definitely want to build self-esteem, and one of the ways to do that is having financial independence.”

In six months, if all goes well, Sally Mary’s student loans will be dismissed, and she’ll be debt-free. “I went from crawling to wheelchair to crutches, and I’m at a cane now. And who knows, maybe I’ll always need a cane? But at least I’m standing on my own two feet. And one thing I’ve learned from Judy is be forgiving. I’m still working on it!”

For more info on Financial Fitness Boot Camp, please visit: 
www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Financial

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