Current Environment:

Spreading Financial Capability Across Boston

“Money is not easy to talk about,” says Paola Liendo, senior financial coach with Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), a community organization that promotes equitable development, affordable housing, and economic prosperity for families across Boston. Liendo adds, “For many people money is still a taboo subject, but by participating in Financial Health Matters, our clients say they won’t just be able to manage their own money, but will also teach their kids to manage money.”

Cisnell Baez, a woman in her 20s, has reaped the benefits of participating in JPNDC’s Financial Health Matters program. JPNDC has been by Baez’ side through good times and bad — including a stretch where she needed assistance finding a new job with more flexibility and paying her bills. She reflects, “JPNDC didn’t make me feel bad about needing help.” She describes JPNDC’s programs as empowering and educational. With JPNDC’s assistance, Baez is now on the way to establishing her consulting business.

Program model

Through Financial Health Matters, JPNDC staff educate clients about financial capability, including setting financial goals, budgeting and saving, maximizing income, and managing credit. During coaching sessions participants develop financial action plans, review their credit reports, and strategize with their coach to build, rebuild, or improve credit scores. Clients typically work with JPNDC for six to 12 months, but many stay up to 18 months.

Clients join Financial Health Matters directly through JPNDC or through referrals from case managers at Boston Children’s at Martha Eliot Health Center. Friends and family also make referrals to the program. Martha Eliot and JPNDC have already been partners for three years. Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health funding will allow JPNDC to serve more individuals and families referred by Martha Eliot staff. Financial Health Matters addresses a key issue for many clients who are homeless or in unstable housing situations: poor or no credit, a common barrier to accessing housing. Learning about credit and other financial issues can help stop the cycle of unstable housing and homelessness.

Expanding the reach of empowering information

Over the next three years, JPNDC will serve 50 to 60 participants from Martha Eliot and the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments. JPNDC will assess participant income and debt reduction annually, and participant credit score improvements semiannually.

Liendo says that what participants learn about credit scores and other financial topics can be “eye opening.” One of the most important things Baez has learned through working with JPNDC is that “money comes and goes.” She now knows that if her credit score dips, she has the tools to bring it back up. “Knowing that,” she says, “is empowering — to know that I have control over my money and that I can change my situation.”

JPNDC staff also connect clients to other resources as needed, such as job training, language classes, and childcare. For instance, if a client needs to increase their income, JPNDC makes a connection with skills training, a career coach, or a community college program. As Baez commented, “It’s easy to feel ashamed about asking for help — but not at JPNDC because you’re greeted by warm people and they make it okay to get help.” JPNDC sees these multiple resources and connections as part of the organization’s larger effort to reduce the barriers to a family’s prosperity.

Baez is excited for her professional and financial future because she’s more organized and has more information. And, she says, “If I don’t have the information I need, JPNDC will help me get it. JPNDC has programs that keep giving.”