‘I can do this’

Published May 16, 2016: With the help of coaching at a Community Financial Center, Larry Hardy is now a proud homeowner.

Video by Charles Ashley, Story by Jessica Page-Carreras

When Larry Hardy decided he wanted to buy a house, it wasn’t just to have a roof over his head. It was about saying, “I can do this” and reaching his goal.

Larry, who has cerebral palsy, had the motivation, but he needed some support. Today, with the help of the Community Financial Center (CFC) coaches at Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, he’s a proud homeowner.

“Home purchase is a big goal,” says Genevieve Pajulio, an assets building program manager at Wayne Metro who worked with Larry. “So we offered other types of resources – like having participant meetings and down payment assistance, and if Larry needed additional support, a financial coach was there to address any concerns.”

Earn It, Keep It, Grow It

That comprehensive approach is called Integrated Service Delivery, and it’s unique to the Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families (CWF) and Community Financial Centers, which was pioneered by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and brought to Greater Detroit by the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) and United Way for Southeastern Michigan (United Way for Southeastern Michigan).

The model focuses on helping clients earn more money, keep more of what they earn, and grow their wealth so they can reach total financial security. So while a client may come in only looking for employment coaching, CWF coaches will see if they need other services like income support or help building credit.

“A client may come in for one service, and we try to provide comprehensive assistance,” Genevieve explains.

Since the program began in 2008, nine CWF sites have opened across Greater Detroit, as well as five CFC sites, which focus on financial coaching, and investing and saving. Sites are located throughout the region, offering unprecedented free access to financial services in neighborhoods.

Tommeia Brown, a client of the CWF at The Guidance Center in River Rouge, says the locations are crucial because they make it easy for people to access the services.

“The benefit of The Guidance Center is that it’s in the heart of River Rouge,” she explains. “It’s not like you have to travel downtown. It’s right here in our neighborhood.”

An ‘Aha Moment’

Accessibility of financial services in Greater Detroit has vastly improved since the Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families came into existence. Southwest Solutions Executive Director Jon Van Camp says that before the CWF, it was “every person for themselves.”

“People of means knew where to go for financial coaching,” he recalls. “But people who were struggling – people who needed it most – there was no real systematic way to connect them with coaches and with technical assistance.”

Van Camp said that when United Way and LISC brought the concept of the CWF model before him and other stakeholders in 2008, it was an “aha moment”: to help families in Greater Detroit, their organizations had to empower adults to become financially successful.

“If you focus on the parents and help their financial stability and growth, you’re helping the child,” Van Camp explains. “I was really excited to be a part of helping to bring the CWF model to Detroit.”

And the program is working. Since 2008, more than 9,400 individuals have participated in services offered by Greater Detroit CWF and CFC. As a result, nearly 4,500 people had a positive financial outcome such as increasing their net worth, net income, or credit score. Additionally, more than 3,200 people have been placed in jobs.

A Collaborative Effort

The CWF work is creating real change in the financial outcomes of Michigan families, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of donors. For Comerica Bank and other local corporate partners, supporting financial success in Greater Detroit is an obvious fit.

“Comerica and the Comerica Charitable Foundation have specifically focused our grant support on the programs that benefit financial stability and the Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families,” says Janice Tessier, Comerica’s national manager of corporate contributions. “This seemed like a perfect fit for us because it really ties in with our overall goals to help people be successful.”

And though CWF offers wide-ranging support, in the end, coaches say it comes down to the client’s motivation to succeed – even when their circumstances may put them at a disadvantage.

“My favorite part of my job is seeing people be successful, grow and become empowered,” Genevieve says. “Adversity can make people stronger, and I hope they see that anything is possible.”

Comerica Bank Michigan Market President Michael Ritchie says he is impressed by the people served by United Way and its partners, as well as the effort put forth by coaches.

"The perseverance people have is amazing," he said. "I meet people from across our community and know how challenging it can be to make ends meet. That's why Comerica decided to focus our contribution on United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s financial stability work. We know that helping people learn to build a budget and save is a critical step in becoming economically self-sufficient."

Larry knows that to be true – and he has a beautiful home to prove it.

“Certain people put you in a corner, saying ‘You cant do it; you can’t have that because you have a handicap,’ ” he says. “When people say I can’t do it, I like to show them I can do it.”