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New Grant for Financial Opportunity Centers

As part of intensified efforts to help jobless Americans gain employment in specialized industries, seven Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) in Chicago have been selected to receive sub-grants from LISC through the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). These grants are targeted to implement contextualized bridge programs and integrated employment, financial, and income supports services under the Bridges to Career Opportunities program model.

The centers being awarded sub-grants are the Center for Changing Lives, Central States SER, Instituto del Progresso Latino, Jane Addams Resource Corporation, Metropolitan Family Services, North Lawndale Employment Center, and the Preservation of Affordable Housing.

Representatives from the seven Chicago FOCs that are receiving new grants through the Social Innovation Fund.

Photos by Annie Grossinger

The announcement was made at a celebration for the Centers on December 23, 2015 as the first SIF grant round is coming to a close. LISC received $21 million in SIF funding from 2010-2015 to bring the Financial Opportunity Center model to scale, expanding to more than 75 centers in 33 cities. The model focuses on an integrated set of three core services: employment and career planning assistance; financial education and coaching; and access to income supports. It supports low-to-moderate income individuals and families.

The celebration was an opportunity to reflect on the work that had been done over the last decade and share excitement for the future. In 2014, the Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers served more than 14,900 Chicagoans and helped more than 1,400 people find employment. During the celebration event speaker Maria Kim, executive director of The Cara Program, also touched on the multiplier effect: the reverberations of helping an individual in the community and how the transference of knowledge can continue.

“How do you take a renewed sense of self and maximize financial opportunity?” Kim asked.

The central theme of Kim’s speech was that “all we really need is a little nudge.” The crux is that a nudge is personal, an individualized action. Even though the FOC model has been scaled across the country, it accommodates individualized plans. Each client has their own story and their own reasons for seeking training.

Nicole Richards, an employee of the Woodlawn Resource Center and a former Financial Opportunity Center client, shared her experiences at the celebration. During her time as a client, one of the skill-sets that stuck out to her was financial coaching. And, it was a skill she had initially dismissed.

Financial Opportunity Center representatives, LISC staff and donors celebrate the next round of Social Innovation Fund grants.

“I thought if I don’t have any income, what can you tell me? But they appealed to me through my three kids,” Richards said, listing off looming expenses for which she had yet to plan: prom, books, college and so on. “I always knew saving was important, but I didn’t know how.”

Changing her perception of financial planning is something she now sees as preventative rather than remedial. “I learned that even though losing my job was traumatic, it doesn’t have to turn my world upside down,” said Richards.

The new SIF grant will build upon the success of the Financial Opportunity Center model by scaling Bridges to Opportunity, which focuses on teaching core skills (such as math, reading and English as a second language) along with “soft skills” (including interviewing and workplace skills like teamwork and conflict resolution) contextualized to specific industries or sectors.

“We’re focusing on in-demand, high growth sectors,” said Seung Kim, Program Director, Family Income & Wealth Building, LISC National. “Bridges is a great way to target people who are really invested.”

Juan Salgado, Institute del Progresso Latino, calls the next phase a “natural evolution.” According to Salgado, it’s an opportunity to take the program to the next level and make financial coaching commonplace.

How each center will integrate the sub-grants is dependent on the industries they serve. Metropolitan Family Services, whose bridge program focuses on culinary and hospitality industry job placements, is looking to activate their partnership with Kennedy-King College.

Nicole Richards shares her experience as a client of the Woodlawn Resource Center.

“We plan to work with Kennedy-King College to recruit and help their students,” said Christine Brown, Metropolitan Family Services. When looking at what the SIF grant could do for them long-term, she is excited. “Success for us will be finding opportunities to partner with businesses -- like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Chipotle. We want to position ourselves as the group that helps them find the human capital they need. And the Englewood residents will know to come to us.”

It’s crucial to work with employers, said Seung Kim, to determine what they are looking for in an employee.

“We have the opportunity to demonstrate that we can take hard-to-employ people and get them in jobs. Hopefully by proving that financial counseling is vital, we can start shifting government policy,” she said.

For more information on LISC's national network of Financial Opportunity Centers and the Social Innovation Fund Awards click here.



Posted in Financial Opportunities


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