Overcoming Financial Barriers, Changing Lives

Overcoming Financial Barriers, Changing Lives

For some people, there is no “post” in post-recession.

Many are still facing lower wages, high housing costs, fewer jobs, and limited access to credit, all of which creates a daily struggle to make ends meet.

But financial insecurity needn’t be a permanent condition.

And it’s not when Center for Changing Lives gets involved with clients.

The Logan Square organization helps people achieve economic advancement, and it starts with the premise that clients bring strengths and skills that they can leverage.

Complex interventions

“We believe that people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. Our work is to help them use those gifts to overcome the barriers they face,” says Ellen Ray, CCL’s executive director.

CCL delivers one-on-one coaching in three areas: employment, finances, and resource development.

“We work on all fronts simultaneously to bring a complex intervention to a complex circumstance,” comments Ray.

Client-directed coaching

Clients develop their own financial vision, whether that is saving for a new appliance, gaining job skills or finding affordable housing.

The coaching reveals both clients’ strengths and their hidden relational resources – friends, family, and neighbors – and finds creative and often less obvious ways to achieve their aims.

For instance, when housing is the challenge, clients often think of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher. But CHA’s wait list can be years long.

So CCL encourages them to consider other options and mine their network for more immediate solutions – getting a roommate, temporarily living with friends or approaching a neighbor with a rental unit. “They’re creatively figuring how to make it work and leverage their resources,” says Ray.

Steady innovation

“In the three areas of our work, we’re pushing the envelope to innovate and more effectively solve individual and community challenges,” Ray says.

For example, in response to the neighborhood’s need for jobs that pay a living wage, CCL debuted a job training program this year.

It will deliver the digital literacy skills clients need in order to pass a certification exam, which is a first step into an information technology career.

Lending circles

In addition, lending circles bring clients money and a way to raise their credit score.

It’s social loan program in which several households come together and take a group loan. Each person contributes a set amount each month and each participant eventually gets to use the dollars for his or her financial goal.

Since each on-time payment is reported to credit bureaus, the secondary benefit is a boost to participants’ credit scores.

Match.com for resources

And CCL’s Resource Up is a bit like Match.com for resources. Clients make a request for goods, services or a human connection. CCL makes the match.

One client wanted to pursue clothing design but lacked a sewing machine. Ray realized hers was sitting on a shelf, and lending it to a budding entrepreneur made sense.

Another client wanted to get a real estate license, and CCL matched that person up with another former client who had achieved the same goal and could provide insight into the process and some tactical support.

Resource Up is still in its early stages, and, says Ray, “We’re looking for people willing to participate in these brokered shares.

CCL’s network

After all, CCL relies heavily on its network of donors, volunteers and partners to achieve its goals. Liberty Bank is one such community partner.

“We’ve invited Liberty to talk with clients about their financial goals and ways they can make savings goals actionable,” says Ray. “It brings quality products and services to clients.”

The bank also puts on free home buying workshops that cover the home buying process from start to finish, and this year it’s bringing financial literacy workshops to CCL clients.

The bank also puts on free home buying workshops that cover the home buying process from start to finish. “This year, Liberty Bank is bringing financial literacy workshops to CCL clients,” says Else Rivera, assistant vice president, Retail Business Development. “For us, it’s a natural partnership and we’re glad to have an opportunity to work CCL and improve the lives of our neighbors.”

CCL is always on the hunt for people to participate in Resource Up and its other programs.  And you don’t need to be a guru to make an impact.

“It’s not giving advice, but sharing your expertise on your own life and career to help others find their own answers and to build a community where everyone can thrive.” explains Ray.