Money isn’t an easy topic. Discussing a raise, negotiating rent, or getting a good deal on a car loan make for awkward, stiff, and uncomfortable conversations. For families without stable finances, such topics are even more difficult. When financially fragile individuals and families lack knowledge or experience with money matters, their situation can grow exponentially worse over time.
United Way is dedicated to ensuring people in Greater Boston and beyond don’t have to fear their finances. That’s why we’ve convened a statewide coalition of agencies focused on financial success: the Working Families Network of Massachusetts. The network consists of 20 nonprofit partners, eight of which serve as Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) that use financial coaching as a core means of building better lives for their clients.
An Agency dedicated to change
One of those agencies — United Way lead partner Jewish Vocational Service Boston, or JVS — came into the network four years ago, when United Way provided them with the funding to become a Financial Opportunity Center. JVS is also a United Way partner in Boston Builds Credit, an initiative funded by Bank of America and Citi Community Development that is aimed at reducing income and wealth inequality by raising credit scores.
Both Doreen Treacy, JVS’s VP of Career Services, and Jason Pollens, their Manager of Economic Opportunity, feel that being a part of United Way’s network has added capacity and impact to JVS’s economic empowerment work. “Through United way, we became part of a larger community of practice, allowing us to share resources with other nonprofits, access in-depth trainings for our coaches, and both send and receive assistance when one of us comes across a particularly difficult case.”
Doreen continues. “There is also the shared systems of measurement United Way provided us. Having a strong, standardized set of metrics to measure our clients’ progress not only allows us to track an individual’s progress, they give us a strong snapshot of the impact we’re having in the larger community. We’re able to say, as a field, ‘This is the change our coaching program is making, where it lives, and where it can be improved.’ That wouldn’t be possible without United Way’s support and commitment to developing and maintaining that standardized data system.”
Their model bundles three core services: employment and workforce development, financial coaching, and public benefits counseling. This integrated financial coaching model, woven into 9 program areas within the agency, ensures clients receiving job training and employment services are better equipped to make sound financial decisions that align with their goals. While coaching is made available to any individual who requests this service, JVS’s primary strategy is to introduce financial coaching as part of the program, not as an an “add-on.”
This sets the FOC network’s service delivery model apart, as Jason explains. “By embedding FOC financial services into employment programs and making sure our Career Navigators and other staff are familiar with our financial coaches, there’s a strong sense of trust between them. That way, if a client needs financial coaching support, they have a warm, trusted connection to lean on as they transition to unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, territory.”
JVS understands that people don’t always think about how much money they’re spending and how those expenditures actually relate to their values. The financial coach’s job is to help clients take a step back and reevaluate how they can budget their lives so they start moving in a better direction. Over a 12- to 18-month period, coach and client work toward attainable goals: decreasing debt, repairing a credit score, and increasing savings for school, renting an apartment, buying a car, or putting a down payment on a house.
For Doreen Treacy, this kind of relationship is at the heart of JVS’s overall economic mobility strategy. “We want to do everything possible as a workforce development agency to set our clients up for success as they enter or re-enter employment. With that as an end goal, it just makes sense to make financial coaching a standard operating procedure. But more than that, it is the attention to building the personal connections between career and financial coaches in each program that translates into the trust needed for students to engage fully.“
Integrated into their financial coaching services are JVS’s educational success initiatives and career readiness programs. JVS operates a one-stop career center that connects clients to companies across Boston looking for talented candidates, as well as seminars and classes on building their network, improving their resume, and more. They also offer a broad suite of skill-building programs for jobs ranging from banking, nursing, pharmacy technician, and animal care.
JVS also empowers its clients to continue or finish their education. They provide a path toward completing high school through a partnership with Boston Public Schools. JVS’ Bridges to College Program provides clients with everything they need to start their higher education journey. And because many of their clients aren’t native English speakers, JVS offers classes to help improve their language skills.
Financial coaching only adds to the value JVS offers members of our community. As an FOC and member of the Working Families Network, they’ve been able to expand not only the services they provide but the impact they have. They’ve been able to share their skills and experience with other nonprofits in the economic mobility space, even taking some of the advice other organizations have to offer whenever they need it. Hundreds of individuals and families have left JVS’ coaching program with better credit and less debt, and now JVS is looking to expand the coaching program to reach even more clients in need.
Even though it’s not easy to talk about money, agencies like JVS are here to make those conversation easier to swallow. Everyone deserves a stable foundation where they can build their lives, and financial coaching at JVS helps so many lay the groundwork for tomorrow.
If you need tax filing assistance this season and your household income was less than $55,000, JVS offers a free tax assistance service. Click here for more info.