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Financial Opportunity Centers: Connecting People to the Local Economy

Photos by Gordon Walek

For the last decade, LISC’s network of Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) have helped residents of underserved neighborhoods establish good credit, find jobs, increase their incomes and learn digital skills.

Recently, LISC researchers analyzed the experience of 40,000 people who visited the 80 FOCs across the country and noted that 76 percent of them increased their net income, more than half increased their net worth and 60 percent either increased their credit score or acquired a credit score. Fifty-eight percent of those who started with zero or negative net income moved to positive net income.

Those findings, and others, were discussed in late June in Chicago, where 250 LISC employees, FOC staff, and partners from across the country gathered to share best practices and enhance the services they offer, fund, and otherwise support.

Seung Kim, LISC senior program director, Family Income & Wealth Building, leads one of the many panel discussions and workshops featured in a national Financial Opportunities Center conference in Chicago earlier this summer.

“Financial Opportunity Centers are embedded in local community organizations that are trusted, known for their history of providing quality services, and convenient to where people live and seek out services,” said Seung Kim, LISC senior program director, Family Income & Wealth Building. “The Centers use a coaching approach to engage people over the long term and make decisions to achieve their goals and visions. ”

Bridges to Career Opportunities

A major focus of the Chicago conference was the Bridges to Career Opportunities initiatives that are designed to target basic skills gaps, connect clients to “middle skills” and living wage jobs with an opportunity for upward mobility, starting them on a career path instead of just a job.

At Bridges to Career Opportunities sites (they aren’t currently available at all FOCs), client’s ramp up foundational literacy and math skills, get technical training, pursue certifications for a particular industry, and receive financial coaching to set long-term goals and help manage expenses during training. Studies have shown that this combination of professional training and financial coaching is what makes a difference. Clients using combined services are 50 percent more likely to land a well-paying job than people receiving employment services alone.

A welding instructor, left, and his student at the Jane Addams Resource Corporation, one of the Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers that specializes in a Bridges to Career Opportunities approach in which clients learn technical skills that will help them move into well-paying, dependable jobs.

The meeting included a tour of two well-established FOCs in Chicago that specialize in the Bridges to Career Opportunities approach: Insituto del Progreso Latino in Pilsen, and the Jane Addams Resource Corporation in Ravenswood. Later during the conference, attendees heard from quantitative and ethnographic FOC researchers about recent findings, and from keynote speaker Asim Mishra, chief of staff at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal entity that helps fund much of the FOC work. Participants also engaged in panel discussions with seasoned FOC directors, and workshops on topics ranging from client retention to program sustainability.

Best practices

While each FOC and Bridges to Career initiative is as unique as each neighborhood, meeting participants sought to take advantage of LISC’s large network of sites and build off of each other’s successes.

Financial Opportunity staff from around the country visited the Jane Addams Resource Corporation training center on Chicago's North Side, as well as the offices of Instituto del Progreso Latino, in Pilsen, which also employs the Bridges to Career Opportunities initiative.

“I’m looking to learn about best practices, particularly around the use of data to evaluate and further strengthen and build the total impact of what we do,” said Alan Gentle, director of the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment in Boston. “I’m looking for some tips on how to really strengthen partnerships with vocational training and programs, and strategies for expanding our client base and sustainability for the program.”

Antonio Nunes, Bridge to Hospitality program manager at the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment added, “Our bridge program is brand new; the ultimate goal is finding something we can build off of, finding what works in different communities and bringing it to ours.”

Asim Mishra, chief of staff at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal entity that helps fund much of the FOC work, was the keynote speaker at the Chicago conference.

The numbers are in

In 2015, the Chicago’s FOC network provided services to 9,565 people, with 6,050 of them receiving bundled services (two or more core services in the areas of employment counseling, financial coaching, and access to income supports). Seventy-seven of them increased their monthly cash flow. And, long-term job retention – holding a job for a year or more – almost doubled when financial coaching reinforced the work of employment counseling.

“We all know that healthy, sustainable communities are made up of people who have living wage jobs and feel confident about their economic futures,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “Unfortunately, desirable careers and financial security aren’t equally available to everyone, especially for many people in our low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Financial Opportunity Centers help clients connect with the regional economy through jobs and wealth building. These services are especially vital to disrupting the persistent lack of opportunity available to individuals, families, and communities of color in Chicago and beyond.”

Guy Loudon, executive director of the Jane Addams Resource Center, at a panel discussion during the Chicago FOC conference.

More information about LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers and Bridges to Career sites outcomes is available in a recent LISC study. To learn more about LISC Chicago’s Centers, view our video series, or the directory of Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers.

Photos from the Chicago FOC conference...

Posted in Financial Opportunities


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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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