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FOC’s At Work On The Ground: Northside Common Ministries

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Provision of Bundled Services through Teamwork

The basis of the Financial Opportunity Center model is intentional integration of the three core services: employment assistance, financial coaching and access to public benefits. Analysis of data from the 80-site national network, as well as our three FOCs in Pittsburgh, shows that clients receiving bundled services are more likely to improve their outcomes and become more financially secure than those receiving just one service. At the FOCs, individualized support is reinforced when coaches work together to assist clients to tackle immediate stressors and gain the confidence and ability they need to reach their own goals. Incremental financial goals such as debt reduction, credit repair and positive net income are met through combined improvements made in employment, benefits and financial management. With increased financial security comes the capability to build long-term wealth through the building of assets such as education and retirement investments.

FOC Client, Rhonda Gethers, at her new job at Goodwill SWPA!

FOC Client, Rhonda Gethers, at her new job at Goodwill SWPA!

Rhonda Gethers, who lost a clerical job she held for nearly 13 years, didn’t know where to turn. Her first efforts at a job search left her in shock. “You need technical expertise to navigate computer systems. And an associates’ degree just to be a secretary. All the applications are online. To be 59 years old and starting over is terrifying.”

Rhonda started by going to the PA CareerLink location at Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. She learned that she would receive unemployment compensation for only six months. She enrolled in an office skills training program at the Goodwill Employment Training Center, a seven-month course. From there, she was referred to the Financial Opportunity Center at Northside Common Ministries, which is a program of Goodwill. With a complete loss of income looming, she knew she needed to reduce her expenses, access short-term benefits and aggressively pursue a job search. She was able to get help with all three at the FOC.

Karen Wagner, financial counselor, and Clare Hann, benefits specialist, provided Rhonda with information about how to access health insurance, food stamps and utility assistance. She also began meeting with Ed Boehme, employment specialist, each Friday at the FOC for more than six months. Ed helped Rhonda tweak her resume and apply online for several jobs each week until she was offered a position as a front desk receptionist by Goodwill at their main location in Lawrenceville. Clare then stepped in again to provide her with a reduced-cost bus pass to enable her to get to work.

“We often work in tandem,” says Ed. “Clare and I gave moral support to Rhonda for the job search, and Karen helped her with her finances. Being an older worker reentering the workforce is difficult, and we all reassured her that she was doing well.” Her progress, according to Ed, was due to her own diligence. “She was aggressive. She took the lead, was always on time, prepared and ready to work.”

Rhonda is grateful for the attention and assistance she received from the staff of the FOC and appreciates the way Karen, Clare and Ed work together as a team. “The best thing was the support I received. I had no direction. I didn’t know how I was going to live. I was kind of embarrassed at first; I worried about how they would look at me. Many people discriminate based on age and background, and don’t give a second chance to see you as a good worker. But the staff of the FOC look at people as people, not losers. They welcomed me with open arms. If they couldn’t help me then they’d tell me where to go for help.”

Now that she has a job she enjoys, Rhonda is clear about her next goal. Her housing payments take up most of her income, and she knows she must move to a more affordable apartment. And after a year, she plans to transition to a position with more hours. While she knows she still has work to do, she’s no longer afraid of the future and credits her time spent at the FOC. “I had Ed’s undivided attention. We worked hard and diligently and I feel so much more confident now. After working with him I can apply for jobs myself. I am so proud.”

“I’m overwhelmed and grateful. I don’t know how to repay them.”

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