Wednesday, December 22, 2010

AmeriCorps VISTA Presence with the IDA and Asset Building Collaborative of N.C.: Marley's service with Community Link in Charlotte

Marley serves as a VISTA at Community Link in Charlotte.  She is incredibly energetic and outgoing, and holds a lust for service; she actively pursues every avenue for growth.  We were in the same training group during our VISTA orientation in Atlanta, and although our service sites are far apart, I was so happy to learn that we would serve on the same team.  –Andriana Bicanin.

Marley comes into the program with experience as an AmeriCorps State/National member.  With that she worked in the family services department with home buyers.  The biggest differentiating factor with her State/National position and her VISTA position is that the director of the State/National program chose who was in line for their house to be built, down payments, everything.  They didn’t have to wait on word from other organizations.  With her past service term the direction of the project came from the inside, and management decided the direction of projects and initiatives.

She chose to join AmeriCorps because of the mission of AmeriCorps- that of ending the vicious cycle of poverty.  While volunteering with Habitat for Humanity her eyes were opened to the value of educating people on the lower economic scale.  She discovered the importance of educating those with lower income on credit and housing, and then giving them something tangible that they can build off of.  As with everyone in IDA and asset building programs, she saw that education and tangible results are the sustainable long term solution to eliminating poverty.  She said that even if they don’t stay in their house for five years, they know the process, the details, the true cost of things, and are more equipped to go on to bigger and better things, and actually climb the economic ladder. They now have the ability to pass their new found knowledge to the next generation. This is the path for long term solutions.  As she so accurately states, life happens- homelessness and/or joblessness happens, but as long as you know the process to climb out of that it is possible to surpass the obstacles.

Community Link:

Community Link has several different programs that serve on a continuum for members of the community.  They include:

1) Family Jumpstart:  This program targets homeless people and pulls together casework, job assistance, and housing.

2) Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing:  Casework services and intervention for people who are on the verge of homelessness.

3) Supportive Housing: Community link has partnership agreements with housing complexes throughout Charlotte.  With this program, Community Link vouches for a person to live in an apartment complex, and assures that the complex will get rent in time, and the house will be left in good condition. 

These clients have past rental issues but are reformed and looking to improve their housing history.

4) Home Ownership Education and Counseling:  This program can last up to 18 months.  Some people come in because they want to take part in the House Charlotte program. 

In the House Charlotte program up to $10,000, for homes $140,000 and less, in closing costs and down payments are given depending on the neighborhood.  This program entails one-on-one going guidance through the entire home buying process.  In order to get into the program a client must me referred by the House Charlotte Line, a bank or a realtor.

5) Family Financial Literacy Coalition:  This is the program that Marley works on, and it is made up of three active committees.  It consists of partnerships with financial institutions and non profits in the city of Charlotte.  The main focus is on the VITA site.  There are financial education workshops by way of EITC. 

The VISTA position within this program:

Marley chairs the asset building committee.  Their main focus is asset building coaches who will be at the VITA site.  Exposure with the coaches is 15 minutes per client.  They try to load clients up with as much financial education as possible.  Clients have an opportunity to enroll in a prepaid debit card if they are under-banked or unbanked, and financial institution referrals are taken out of the resource guide. There are also referrals for foreclosure prevention, debt counseling, and employment assistance. 

They are currently in the pilot phase of a Financial Fitness Coach Program. This program is teamed up with their home ownership department.  If they have customers who will take longer than 18 months to complete the program, they are referred to the program and paired up with a financial fitness coach for a whole year.  The coach/customer team meets two hours a month so that the customer not only sets goals, but also meets with someone that guides them. The program focuses on paying off debt, staying on budget, improving credit, saving towards their kid’s college, or a down payment on something- car or house- whatever their goal might be. It’s a 12 month intensive program in the very beginning stages. This is the first program not centered on VITA sites that the coalition is doing.

There are great things going on in Charlotte, and Marley finds herself pushing her limits and facing challenges that arise.  She is unaccustomed to working as a collaborative, and is learning the ins and outs of collaborative interaction in the quest to move forward with a project.  This project is expansive, helps the many, and is far more than just a Charlotte wide initiative; it reaches beyond that area. When working they consider that everything they put together has to work in other counties and communities, and are broad in their approach.  She is still learning the mechanics of how it works.

Through these challenges she is learning and growing, and has set short term goals of improving the asset building coaches, and creating resources to pass onto customers.  Marley thinks for what is sustainable.  Handouts are temporary, but if they can give the person the tools they need in the long run they will be much better off. The major thing Marley is learning is that sometimes you will get that idea you want to take off with and are enthusiastic about, and some people will run with you, but especially in a collaborative, there is a lot of patience with processes because there are so many people that need to get on board; there is a much larger scope.  She is learning to walk that balance between patience and immediate action.

Friday, December 10, 2010

AmeriCorps presence in the Asset Building & IDA Collaborative of N.C.: Trevor, with Durham Regional Financial Center

This next installment in the series of AmeriCorps interviews is with Trevor, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA placed in Durham.  Trevors interview is fast paced, energetic, and filled with ideas, information, and projects underway.  It left me excited, impressed, and  feeling even luckier to be a part of such a strong group of VISTAs.  Trevor is a "take the bull by the horns" kind of guy (good thing he is in Bull City!), which is very obvious in the way he works, and the great things he has already accomplished.  I feel honored to present you with this interview  -Andriana Bicanin


Trevor is placed at Durham Regional Financial Center.  He applied for AmeriCorps VISTA after finding the job listing online, and thought the work looked interesting.  His thought process went, “Man, this looks worthwhile.”  Part of the appeal of the work was that it was a new venture and something he had not done before.  At the time of application he had two part time jobs, but when he saw this it was something he just couldn’t pass up.  He compared this position to the “shiny thing in the store.”  He doesn’t make impulse purchases, but instead life decisions.  With this spontaneity comes a strong work ethic and constant movement within his position.  He puts in 110% at Durham Regional Financial Center, and really throws himself into his work.  Trevor doesn’t want to show up at work one day and find himself with nothing to do, so he is constantly researching programs and best practices, finding people to meet, connections to make, and forging ahead with great new plans for the program and community.  He readily admits that what allows him to continue doing this much-needed work is strong leadership from his supervisor and the director of the agency, Glyndola Beasley.  Even while conducting this very interview he had just left a lunch meeting that he only found out about hours before.  While talking his tone is very descriptive of what is going on with this great organization; fast paced, and always moving, he keeps remembering nonprofits they are working with and programs that benefit the community.  After the interview was over it took me a few minutes to catch my own breath after hearing all the great things going on in Durham.

Durham Regional Financial Center, a HUD Approved and COA Accredited 501(c)3 non-profit formed in 1998, focuses on a variety of things such as: housing counseling, pre- and post-purchase counseling, loss mitigation and foreclosure prevention, credit and budget counseling, debt management plans, and reverse mortgage.

What do you do with the program; what are some projects?

Overall, Trevor administers the IDA program, does outreach, recruits new clients, works on retention, and works to determine what the clients need and how the organization can address those needs.  Lately, he has been trying to streamline the administration of the program, and since he’s only there for a year he’s focusing on standardizing a lot of the procedures and processes so the organization can look at one manual to see what to do. 

Also on his plate:

-Will be working on EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) pretty soon, and will be promoting VITA sites.

-Standardizing and creation of guidelines will help with his current focus, which is that of retention.  For this he is constantly contacting all of their clients and making a timeline for the program from beginning to end.  This will hopefully keep them on a schedule for outreach and retention- it states how often they will call their clients in order for project success.

Trevor would like to increase the incentives for people in the community to attend classes his organization hosts.  Durham Regional Financial Center’s Individual Development Account is for first time homeowners.  These clients are required to take classes in their journey to homeownership, but the goal is to create a program that is as inclusive as possible in order to better reach out to the Durham community.

Credit unions are a really great resource to go to in any community, and he is looking to partner with those in Durham.  He is currently working on ways to get people into affordable savings and checking accounts, even if they have been banned from checking because of past mistakes.  Several participants never had savings before entering the program.  Clients are now able to begin the account creation process at the end of their first IDA counseling session.  Access to low- and no-cost banking, credit building and financial knowledge is a great incentive for those in the community.  Promoting an environment that allows people to share their goals and learn from one another is paramount in creating a sense of community and keeping people in the program; the food that they provide during classes does not hurt, either.

With these incentives in place he would like to make the classes a little more intense to drive home the gravity of a purchase commitment.  The increased intensity will weed out those who are not serious about the program, and keep the people who are serious about buying a home.  It also helps set them up for higher success.  The IDA classes are the easiest part of the home process.  You come to the classes and learn.  When you are done with the classes you are out there, own your home, have a mortgage, and need to know, remember, and act on all of the information you were taught.  He wants to drive home that this is going to affect the next 30+ years of their lives!  This isn’t something that ends when you graduate from the course, receive a loan, and get that house- this is something that you *need* to be prepared for, and information that will make it harder to default, and cause less stress.  Thirty years is a pretty large chunk of time! 

They recently graduated seven active account-holding participants through their financial education course.  They have also expanded their financial education and homebuyer education schedule for 2011, giving clients more opportunities to participate and learn.  Additionally, Durham County’s residents can now look forward to increased opportunities to participate in the Individual Development Account program’s classes at times that fit their schedule.

Although he was unfamiliar with the territory, Trevor approached this work by jumping straight into it, and hitting the ground running.  What finds the most productive is “pounding the pavement.”  He feels that in order to create the most capacity, and make the most impact you “Gotta get out in the community and hit the ground running.  Get out there and meet people as soon as you can, and as often as you can.”

Partnerships and Ideas:

Trevor devotes a lot of time calling people and pitching the idea of their IDA program.  The people he has spoken to love the idea, as he says, “What’s not to love about it.”  As they approach tax season he is going to expand into EITC.  With that venture he will approach it slightly different, but is still going to approach potential clients and partners and tell them, “This is good for your employees.”  A lot of people qualify for VITA and EITC, it’s just a matter of getting the word out there.

How Their Program Works:

Clients need to save a total of $1500

Program Length:

6 months, 12 months, 24 months

Money saved each month:

6 month: $250

12 month: $125

24 month: $62.50

Matching Funds:

6 month: 3:1
12 month: 4:1
24 month: 5:1

Durham Regional Finance Center stays in close contact with clients during and after their savings plan, and has plans to expand their capabilities for long-term tracking.  By the end of the plan they are mentally prepared for this endeavor.  Another reason he wants to expand the IDA program is so participants who do not qualify for matching grants can participate, learn about money and open accounts.  Although they do not receive the matched money, the program can help them build credit and develop sound financial habits.  This makes it so they don’t just blow it or “keep it under the mattress.”  If at some point during the savings plan they are confident enough in their financial abilities to purchase a home (and they qualify), they can begin saving for the matching grant since they already fulfilled the educational portion.


He has been talking to creditors, realtors and city agents, and has had success with a variety of organizations.  Trevor has presented on asset building at a variety of organizations in Durham County. He goes to these organizations and says, “Hey, this is who we are.”  He is basically trying to get face time with different agencies to get them in the push for asset building.

Any Challenges?

He finds it challenging to take his time, and take things one step at a time.  He realizes that everything is a process and you have to go through it one step at a time, or else you will lose your way.  It was especially troublesome that he had to learn the basics as he administered and built the program; it was a juggling act.  Fortunately, he has had some fantastic guidance and help from volunteers.  Programs like this thrive on volunteers and people who are willing to put forth time to make this work.  One of the goals is to make this program a priority for where they are, and to do that they have to prove they are making headway.  Although it has been difficult at times, the program would not have been able to move forward without its volunteers and close relationship with Durham.

Parting Words:

Bull City.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

AmeriCorps*VISTA Presence in Fayetteville, at Kingdom CDC

The first interview with a VISTA member in the "AmeriCorps*VISTA Presence in North Carolina" article series is with Blake, who is over at Kingdom CDC in Fayetteville.  This interview really excited me because of all of his experience in nonprofit organization, and how willing he is to share his knowledge.  I've been lucky enough to talk to him during our VISTA training in Atlanta, as well as trainings the collaborative has held for the VISTAs in Durham, and am so happy to be able to share this with ya'll!  Enjoy!  -Andriana Bicanin

Blake is an AmeriCorps VISTA with an abundance of knowledge and experience in nonprofit and community organization.  He has spent the majority of his adult life working at nonprofits throughout the country, and now brings his wealth of knowledge to Kingdom CDC. 

When I asked him what his non profit experience is, he gave me the “readers digest” version, which is still vast and impressive:

Founding member of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston.  It is the only Fair Housing nonprofit in Eastern Massachusetts.

Program Assistant/ job readiness trainer/ job developer: welfare to work program. MassJob Training Inc.

Program Assistant- Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration Program of Boston.  This was the precursor to the mobile section 8 and housing choice voucher program.  This program allowed the government to move to section 8 and housing vouchers holders throughout the country, instead of only in state.

Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration.

Blake’s first experience with nonprofit organization was when he received a certificate from Literacy Volunteers of America and started teaching GED classes at City Colleges of Chicago. 

At one time, the south side of Chicago housed a thriving steel mill industry, but this industry found itself closing its doors and large amounts of people were left jobless.  He met the people who were directly affected, a majority of which had little or no education. and decided that his path was in the nonprofit sector, giving back.  He did not know what he wanted to do, he just knew he wanted to do something.

Why did you choose this program in AmeriCorps VISTA:

Community asset building is what he does, it allows him to continue linking people together with the resources in the community, while he gets the platform for when he talks to other nonprofits in the area on how they can partner with each other; these organizations need to partner together.  He then explained how there are two sides to nonprofit work that cannot be ignored.  There is a business side and then the nonprofit side.  With the business side you need numbers so you can keep getting grants and other donations  and the nonprofit or visionary side breaks down barriers for knowing what community assets are and communicating this to community.  It is also important for nonprofits to share clients with other non profits to get more done. 

With this he shares an experience he had with Habitat for Humanity.  When it comes to nonprofit work he strongly believes it’s about the family.  No matter the age it is possible to involve everyone in the family in what is being done and everyone benefits.  Habitat for Humanity requires that the receiving family put in a certain amount of “sweat equity” into the building of their house, but small children are not allowed to help build.  The Habitat group he worked with allowed children to support their family by getting good grades, which then translated as sweat equity hours- if the children in the household received A’s and B’s it was counted towards the building of their home.  This holistic approach brought each member of the family into the process, and the children involved usually received better grades!  As Blake said, the “Holistic approach is a beautiful thing.”

What does the organization you support do:

Due to the lack of decent, affordable housing for low income individuals in Fayetteville, a group of five or six Church folks came together and brainstormed ideas for such homes.  Through this effort, came the formation of the Kingdom CDC; 15 years later, decent, affordable housing is still its core mission.

The IDA program was brought into the program in 2003.  A big piece of what they deal with is foreclosure prevention and mortgage mitigation, with financial literacy built in.  Clients are required to take classes, and they also offer financial literacy classes free to the community.  Very recently, they conducted a class on budget and credit counseling, at Fayetteville State University.

An overview of Kingdom Community Development:

Foreclosure Prevention
Pre purchase Counseling
Financial Literacy
Building Homes

The greatest challenge to capacity is staff.  Not including the director and receptionist, there is a staff of 3 counseling clients, and doing everything for the organization.

What is it that you do with the organization:

Blake’s assignment at Kingdom Community is to lay the groundwork for making a stronger program, and talking to different nonprofits in the area with whom they can partner.  He also conducts volunteer recruitment.  He has identified three prime locations for recruitment, of those are:

-Fayetteville Technical Community College

-Minority Leadership Development Program- Sponsored by
United Way
of Cumberland County  They train individuals on how to work on nonprofit boards and committees. 

-ICL: Institute for Community Leadership- Sponsored by Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, Fayetteville Technical Community College, The Arts Council and Cumberland County Schools. 

What do you find most challenging:

Pace.  “As an ISTJ,” he tends to stick to what is outlined in the goals and timelines of a project, and there are some things he would like to switch around, but does not because of adherence to the action plan as set in the VISTA Assignment Description. 

He would like to start working on making things more time efficient, and would like to create a central database.  There is currently no central database- everyone has information on their own computers.  They rely on the directors memory when they need to find the information for an IDA participants.  He feels that it would be more time efficient if this information was readily available, as they now have to manually get information.

As Blake said earlier in our conversation, the biggest challenge is staff. There are four people doing all the programs which keeps things busy, and their internal resources are spread thin. Space is also an issue.  They are located in downtown Fayetteville and share a very small space between the all of them.

Nonprofit workers suffer from a high burnout rate.  This is common because workers don’t always see action right away, or even over a longer period of time.  The people who choose to work in nonprofit organizations have all these great visions and missions, and tend to get overwhelmed by everything that comes with working in a nonprofit.  They come into this line of work idealistic as to what they can help to accomplish and the people they can help, but run into many of the same problems, such as: hindrances in community acceptance; an overall feeling that they cannot help enough and serve all the needs of the community; there is also the fact that nonprofits are businesses as well, and not just a mission- individuals come into the program with a great mission in mind, and then find out that there are numbers to crunch, meetings to go to, and people to report to. 

The people in this line of work need to realize is that they can’t help everyone.  Not only is this a highly emotion driven field, but as he noted, the “Pay is lousy.”

How can people get involved with this effort, who do they contact?

Contact Blake Lucas or Elsie Gilmore at: 910 484 2722

What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to get into nonprofit organization.  What steps should they take:

Volunteer at different nonprofits and find something that you truly like to do.  Think of the things that make you happy.  Do you like to build?  Then volunteer with an organization that needs handy people.  Do you like recycling?  Volunteer at a Restore Warehouse such as Habitat of Humanity has.  If you love reading then read to the blind.  Try to find something that you can learn from, but you also like so that you don’t get in there and lose interest.  Match it up.  If you are a student and it is possible, volunteer with an organization where you can get credit or gain skill to further your career.  There are VITA sites around the country where you can become a trained tax preparer. 

Look inside yourself and do what you like and what your passion is, and find an organization to do that with.  Don’t get scared to get dirty.

Networking is also important.  Go to community events and seek out what is going on in the area, and apply.  Clients can also be the best leads.  They share what’s going on with them, what they have heard, then that spark flickers and you go “Oh I can do that, I can look into that.” 

Political views aside, nonprofits do the dirty work.

Nonprofits also incorporates cross training of what you need in the business world. Regardless of public or private. Networking, communication, budgeting, grants, proposals, dealing with people- <= you do all of this in the nonprofit world, and it makes you valuable in the private sector as a manager.

What is your favorite part of this line of work; what is the best part?

With each question I ask, he takes a moment to reflect on his experiences and gather memories from a life of public sector work.  With this question he paused for a second and responded with, “Would have to be the look on the families face when they have achieved something,” and knowing he played a “small part.”

Here is a beautiful story from when he worked and lived in Boston:

When working on the Boston welfare to work program he worked with a single mother of a 3-4 year old.  Together they “Knocked on doors and finally got her a job.”  He left this program and went on to work at MTO.  One day, serendipity walked into his office in the form of the same woman he helped find a job years earlier.  Because he knew her history, they worked together towards her entry into a family self sufficiency program.  Eventually, they were able to get her a Section 8 voucher, and she moved into a Canton condominium. Canton, MA is an extremely wealthy, upper middle and upper class area just south of Boston MA, and she remains the only person to have lived in a condo there under Section 8.
Three years later he was walking out of a store and heard and saw someone waving and calling out, “Mr. Blake!”  At first he did not recognize the excited woman coming at him.  After a moment he realized it was the same woman he had helped all those years ago.  She had lost weight, looked great, and right in the middle of the street she gave him a bog ol’ hug.  They chatted for a while as she regaled him with stories of her accomplishments and achievements since their last encounter.  This single mother of a small child was promoted at work, went back to school, her kids were doing great, and with all of that she thanked him.  She thanked him for listening and not telling her what to do, equipping her for success, and advising her.

After telling me this story, he doesn’t miss a beat and reflectively says, “That is what nonprofit work is all about,” that is what he likes to achieve.  And even with the clients he is not able to help, he still wants to have given them something- he hopes they learned something from their interaction.  The people are what keep him going, and he reiterates, “That’s ‘the best part.’”

Monday, November 22, 2010

AmeriCorps*VISTA Presence at the IDA Collaborative of N.C. Part I: At the State Level

A mix of direct quotes, summary, and turning their words into story, this article is about the VISTA role in the Asset Building and IDA Collaborative of North Carolina. I conducted phone interviews with VISTA members, supervisors, and the Executive Director of the Collaborative, for a period of two weeks in November.

Part I has interviews I conducted with Executive Director Donna Gallagher and AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader Zarak Khan. They explain what the Asset Alliance and IDA Collaborative is, along with why there is a VISTA presence.  Part II is interviews I conducted with VISTAs placed at innovating asset building and IDA programs throughout the state, and Part III is all about the New Century IDA and my and Alexandra's role within this groundbreaking IDA working group.  -Andriana Bicanin  [AmeriCorps*VISTA].


There are currently ten VISTAs placed throughout the state of North Carolina supporting the Asset Alliance’s partner organizations. These high energy, service minded individuals have devoted a year of their life to helping build capacity at their sites, and helping those in poverty rise above and empower themselves. The goal of the AmeriCorps*VISTA project is to help the people in America rise out of poverty and create a lifetime of knowledge and empowerment. Welfare can get a person only so far, what sets them up for independence is asset building, and that is exactly what these amazing organizations are doing.

The Organizations who House the VISTAs:

New Century IDA: Experiment in Self Reliance

New Century IDA: Forsyth County Department of Housing. Winston Salem

Kingdom Community Development Corporation: Fayetteville

Eagle Market Street Development Corporation: Asheville

Community Link in Charlotte

Durham Regional Financial Center in Durham

Prosperity Unlimited in Kannapolis

Gaston Community Action in Gastonia

Choanoke Area Development Association in Rich Square

Beyond Academics at the University of North Carolina Greensboro

Donna Gallagher is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative (NCIDA), and is part of a four state coalition with West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. As executive director of the NCIDA she works to develop programs and solutions for North Carolina through participating with partners, raising money, and working with the asset collaborative board.

Before working as executive director of the NCIDA Donna was a banker and CPA (Certified Public Accountant). She left that world in order to go into child welfare. For eighteen years she worked in child welfare, housing and juvenile justice; it was during this time she saw a constant trend of emergency needs, and very few long term, sustainable, move out of poverty, types of programs that give families a path to take care of themselves either through education training or long term planning. She felt that government assistance, in some ways, does not place emphasis on long term solutions to staying out of poverty because welfare recipients are not able to accumulate assets through this sort of aide. She went into the Individual Development Account field because it is one of the major answers for upward mobility. Donna constantly saw families in poverty and a lack of resources for upward mobility and staying out of poverty. Seeing this motivated her to go into asset building, and continues to motivate her today. As she told me,

“Working in asset building means you work for an Equitable States of America. Liberty and justice for all is not just words, it means something. Public policy many times is geared to provide resources to the wealthy, so working in asset building means that you are working for an equitable America.”

The North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative:

The North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative works with programs and organizations around the state to build wealth for low to moderate income North Carolinians. They do this through: public policy advocacy, support programs like AmeriCorps VISTA and N.C. Saves, and work with other organizations where savings programs and financial education is the focus. Asset building overall is a huge field and they are trying to take the niche of savings- that of IDA and matched savings, and an array of other wealth building programs and ventures.

How was the NCIDA formed?

The collaborative is fourteen years old. When organizations were applying for the initial grants for the American Dream Demonstration, a group of service minded individuals applied for it but were initially rejected. This was seen as a blessing in disguise because the North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative was later able to get funding from the North Carolina General Assembly. This allowed them to create a program modeled and structured specifically to address the needs of the people and communities of North Carolina, rather than having to follow a federal model. After not getting accepted for the federal grant, the group went to Raleigh and said they wanted to bring this sort of asset building grant to North Carolina. A group of them wrote an AFI grant and were able to bring matched funding to North Carolina. The funds were sub-granted across the state into programs that wanted to do IDAs, with the collaborative still in the role of training and technical assistance with IDA and other capacity help. From there came the birth of the IDA collaborative.

What are some projects ya’ll are working on?

The NCIDA is putting a lot of effort into economic security forums. There are two forums scheduled for: Kannapolis and Durham (there was just one on November 16th in Williamston). These are facilitated presentations about asset building, and are broken up into small groups to drill down on housing, financial services and savings, education and small business.

NC Saves week: February 20th 2011.

Conference planning for 2011 Asset building conference. In addition to four state savings partnership.

NC Asset Alliance: The session starts after the 1st of the year. Advocacy on behalf of an equitable, which is hard this year because of the budget deficit. She is hoping the gains they made these past few years don’t get cut to plug the budget deficit. The assets alliance will be taking a leadership role in the ongoing efforts over policy and communications- there will be a lot of activity in early spring with the North Carolina General Assembly going into session.

Upcoming Events:

If you would like to attend any upcoming events, please go to the North Carolina Asset Alliance website and register. The events are free because of these wonderful sponsors: CFED, Bank of America, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Why were VISTAs brought in, what is the VISTAs role in asset building, and why is it even necessary to have a VISTA presence?

AmeriCorps VISTAs were brought in to support and create a strong asset building awareness in communities throughout the state, which in turn helps create a lasting movement. Those in the NCIDA know there is work that has to be done on a lot of levels, and CFED has done a wonderful job nationally by providing good research through the scorecard, as well as learning opportunities and assistance on a lot of levels, but the VISTAs are here to help create awareness and build capacity at a local level.

Only five years ago the IDA collaborative received a grant to build the assets alliance- and now the assets alliance has almost 60 partners, as well as groups around the state that work on some piece of the assets agenda. There is a strong group of experts and advocates at the state level, but what was missing was drilling down the program and movement at the community level.

Understanding the economic split in N.C. is important when looking at why VISTAs were brought in, as well as understanding the needs of the communities and public outreach on behalf of the community.

The N.C. Rural Center works in 85 counties that are considered rural (where there are fewer than 250 people per square mile). Half of the population lives in rural areas, that is four million people. Rural center gets lots of resources they can bring in to small towns and communities. The collaborative met and asked themselves where they needed to put resources in community building, because there was already support in rural communities they decided to focus on urban areas. They looked at research done by the N.C. Center for Poverty Work and Opportunity; they looked at those pockets of poverty that are resident in urban center. Seeing as half of population of North Carolina lives in these areas, this is where they chose to place VISTAs. They wanted to provide additional resources for what they believe is a sustainable solution to poverty in urban areas of N.C.

More about VISTAs in the Asset Building Movement:

The IDA Collaborative houses the VISTAs for a term of three years. In this three year period they will:

1) Raise awareness of the organizations where they are placed.
2) Bring engagement
3) Create lasting solutions and build capacity.

The network of VISTAs across the state are a high energy group and they provide an outside view, objectivity, and bring fresh eyes into what’s going on with this movement. The accomplishments of this group are long range. Through the VISTA efforts they will be able to share what works well across the state. This is already happening. In the short three months the VISTAs have been with the NCIDA they have been sharing their efforts and energy and accomplishments. Donna is excited to see where the VISTAs take the organizations in three or fours years from now, and how their connection with the assets movement for N.C. creates a stronger link to the nonprofits, and asset building movement. She is hoping this will result in stronger laws, stronger public policies, and local actions that will support shared prosperity and connections so that everyone in N.C. has the opportunity to build assets. Assets are not an income solution, assets are a broader and more comprehensive view of families economic security.

Four State Asset Building Collaborative:

Donna is busy not only helping the people of North Carolina, but those in our region, through a coalition effort in executing the best asset building techniques and programs. The four state coalition is comprised of: the North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative, Virginia Community Capital (capitalized by the state of Virginia), South Carolina Association of Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and the West Virginia Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action (KISRA).

This four state collaborative came about when Donna was having a conversation with the program officer at the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation around their work in asset building. He talked about the fact that they had done some grants together with asset building programs, and asked if she was interested in leading a group on how the different states can come together and benefit from each others work. The foundation provided a grant in the fall of 2009 and invited representatives from the other three states to come together. Dan Kornelis, the Director of Housing for Forsyth County (N.C.), hosted the training at the Forsyth County government building.

After coming to terms as to what their shared goal was and discussing each organizations strengths, they came to the common goal of increasing the savings of low wealth residents in their states. They surveyed everyone they knew involved with financial education and savings programs, and through these findings savings gaps were identified in respect to geography; common findings and dialogue: not everyone has access to financial institutions where they can save, the institutions can not be supported without costs, specific populations needs, and a lot of dialogue around the need for youth savings, need for education savings, and seniors were also mentioned.

They found that a savings product or program with small savings goals is needed especially in groups that serve very low income folks. They also found commonalities with home needs, appliance and furniture, and transportation. The NCIDA is trying to build emergency funds into North Carolina Saves. They left their efforts at this and went back to the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and told them that they felt they could take this effort regionally.

In order to promote assets for all, they are reaching out to employer groups, financial institutions that are across the region, and other advocacy groups, on the regional level. The regional collaborative recently received word they will be funded for two more years. In 2011, the NCIDA is taking the N.C. Conference in Asset Building regional by inviting the three others states to this normally North Carolina only conference.

Any more thoughts or parting words?

“Overall, if we needed a lesson on how interconnected our economic survival is, the economic downturn is a perfect example. North Carolina has a bright future- there is a 1.5 decrease in unemployment- the question is how to we make it bright for all residents.” She is very optimistic that they can, “Continue to make North Carolina the best state in the country to Live, Work, and Play.”

Zarak is the AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader for the North Carolina Asset Building Collaborative. Having already done a year of AmeriCorps*VISTA with Campus Compact at Clemson, and enjoying building community partnerships, he decided to spend another year serving as a VISTA*Leader. He supports and coordinates ten full time VISTAs placed throughout the state at partner organizations. He also makes sure the project stays on target and supports the broader goals of the Collaborative. Zarak works at the same office as Donna and provides an outsider’s view of the organization, and just as us VISTAs are doing, he helps build capacity and support for stronger community ties and partnerships, and reaching the goal of asset building and independence.

His interview is much the same as the one I conducted with Donna, but he is able to provide us with an outsider’s view on what the movement in North Carolina looks like, what the role of AmeriCorps is, and his efforts with the organization. His role as supporter and coordinator for the VISTAs, as well as his previous VISTA experience, provides a unique perspective and insight into our roles and endeavors in North Carolina.

What Drives You to Help this Cause?

His background is heavy in volunteerism. He worked with Habitat for Humanity in Jacksonville, FL. (Habijax), and worked around poverty education as an undergraduate. He views his current role as VISTA Leader and talking to partners and collaborative members about their experiences as a “crash course” in capacity building for this type of nonprofit work.

Zarak chose to join this effort because of his background in partnership creation and sustaining such relationships. What drives him is the aspect of working with all members of the collaborative and helping them run smoothly. He finds the process of getting to know different people and organizations, seeing how their strengths work well together, partnering them, and seeing how those partnerships are fruitful and productive for everyone involved, very rewarding.

What is Your View of the North Carolina Assets Building Collaborative?

The Collaborative works with several different partners around the state that participate in IDA programs or are interested in IDA programs, the Assets Alliance, and those who build assets. It is a mix of working with partners on the ground, as well as state and national advocacy and education. They participate in state and national conferences and forums such as the CFED conference. They also talk to lawmakers about asset building programs and things that North Carolina legislators can do to support such a program.

A prime example of how the Collaborative helps the state is through the VISTA project. The VISTA project works to build capacity and keep lines of communication open with those who work on asset building and IDAs.

He said he is learning more and more about what each individual agency does and how much each agency knows about other collaborative members. Because of the connectedness of the VISTAs and the efforts each are putting into their organizations and with each other, the collaborative will be drawn closer together.

Nationally, North Carolina is ahead of other states when it comes to consumer protection and policies. Along with success comes struggles such as indexing minimum wage to inflation and support of state IDAs, but overall North Carolina is doing a great job with its asset building movement and IDA programs. North Carolina is actively bringing in modes of support and means to increase the success of its programs.

VISTA Presence

When I asked Zarak what he was most excited about when it came to working with the collaborative, his voice was upbeat as he said, “Easy answer. The VISTA project.” His interest and excitement over this project is clearly evident. This is the aspect that he’s most intimately familiar with, and a program he truly enjoys.

He just finished compiling the quarterly VISTA report, and the accomplishments and stories the VISTAs shared in their reports really excited him for where this project is going. The quarterly report required that each VISTA write what they have done at their service sites from the start of their service term in August, up until the beginning of October. The fact that the report only reflects the first five weeks of service shows the enthusiasm, energy, and strengths of this group of VISTAs. They have already gained “amazing” accomplishments that have not even been slated for completion for another six months.

He finds it is exciting to see how these things have been put into place, how effective and dedicated the VISTAs are, and how they have easily slipped into the groove of the agencies pretty early on. It will be interesting and exciting to see how these organizations have expanded, grown, and been supported two and three years from now, due to the efforts of the VISTAs.

In his view, the reason VISTAs are necessary is because nonprofits in general have the tendency to be overworked, understaffed, and under-funded. They help create sustainable new programs and with building capacity for those that already exist. With nonprofits that do emergency assistance the focus is on getting by and making sure people have absolute necessities- VISTAs have the time and perspective to see where change can help the nonprofit, they can also implement plans, and build new ways of offering things through the organization.

The majority of his time is spent working with the VISTA project. It encompasses a lot of planning and implementation of the VAD (VISTA Assignment Description). The VAD is put together by site supervisors and unique to each organizations needs. It is the assignment descriptions the VISTAs are trying to accomplish throughout the year. He makes sure that everyone, VISTA and supervisors, are comfortable, confident and understanding of their project descriptions. He also works to build relationships with financial institutions, and works with other coalitions in Raleigh and out of state to try and bring more resources to the project and collaborative.

What are some of the goals for this year, how about long-term goals?

This year:

1) Increase organizations’ capacity to serve low wealth individuals and families.

2) Improve communities’ asset building and engagement. Done through establishing local asset building coalition- if already there build around what’s already there.

3) Increase the financial knowledge of participants through the sites programs. That’s why a lot of the stuff this year is to get a baseline of where the sites are at- what they can put into place

4) Recruit and train volunteer wealth coaches who will provide financial education and advice to low income or asset poor families.

Long term:

The projects, goals, and accomplishments of the VISTAs are not just a one, two, or three year thing. One of the long-term aims of the project is to create a replication plan for projects statewide.

What are some current projects y’all are working on?

NC Saves- is a social marketing campaign to encourage North Carolinians to save. There is a lot of work to be done there. This project is good on several levels because it builds important relationships between agencies that offer financial education and financial institutions. The act of saving is something that most if not all people can be encouraged to do. Someone may not be ready for an IDA program but through this project they can receive both education and a savings account to put them on the right track to financial independence and asset building.

One of the best ways to get involved in this awesome venture is to work with one of the local partnering agencies. Please refer to the list of partnering agencies at the beginning of this blog post, or email Zarak at:

Any more thoughts or parting words?

When I asked him if he had any parting words or thoughts, he expressed his excitement over what AmeriCorps*VISTA can accomplish this first year, and the position for which the current AmeriCorps members are creating for their host sites; the energy, excitement and talent in capacity building and support shown by the VISTA members, is setting up a successful three year presence of AmeriCorps*VISTA. The work done today is creating potential for a strong tomorrow.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Their Shoes- The Journey from Renter to Homeowner: A Spritual Journey- James

This is the first interview I conducted with James.  His energy and drive is absolutely inspiring, and I really look forward to talking to him and interviewing him throughout his homebuying experience.  -Andriana Bicanin

James is an eager new participant in the New Century program.  He comes into the program after years of struggling with homelessness and substance abuse.  He is now nearly five years sober, and wants to share his story with those who may feel like they have gone through too much or have experienced defeat.  When I sat down with James the feeling and emotion that kept repeating itself was that of surrounding yourself with positive people, how your life can be transformed if you allow it to, and to set goals and believe in yourself.  That first steps are setting out to make the change and seeking out the right services.  James decided to take that step and sought outside support.   He came from “a fairly decent family background, a military background” he stated, and ran into some problems and issues for which he sought help from social services to overcome.  Social services led him to ESR (Experiment in Self Reliance); which helped him through his rough patch, and recommended that he apply for the New Century IDA program.
He had at one time really wanted a house but resigned himself to renting for the rest of his life; with this loss of hope for owning his own home came a feeling that something was missing in his life.  The hardest thing for James was the fact that he was, “One of those people who were [sic] supposed to make it.  I was one of those people that had all the resources and had all the tools and had the education and I ended up on the street.”  James grew up in a home that his parents owned and feels an added pressure from himself because of that.  He mentions remarks from his family such as, “Are you ever going to get a place?”  He comes from a family of “Stoic men who had their little piece” and although this added pressure throughout the years, he needed to get to the point where he wanted to buy a house and where he was ready to take that step towards owning a home.  He found that time when he came to ESR.
James was very ignorant to what his availabilities were but the folks at ESR and CHO (Center for HomeOwnership) “Knew what they were doing and what questions to ask” him.  When he came in and spoke with the folks at ESR and found out that this was something that was attainable he was overcome with joy, cried, and said, “Praise God.”  He “didn’t know how to feel” because he felt like “it was a long time since anyone cared, that anyone really wanted for me to succeed.”  He watched (New Century IDA program director) Barbara’s video about her experience going through the program and buying a home, and was able to relate.
He firmly believes that no matter what you have gone through and what your struggles are, “If you take care of yourself, get with the right people, you can clean up if you just try.  This program helps with that.  If financial defeat, this program can help; if recovering from anything, this program can help; family decimation or dissolvement, whatever is negative holding you back , this program can help.  It’s not just economic it’s spiritual, emotional, psychological- everything.”  Most of the support that he experiences is through ESR.  The enthusiasm and support from the people at ESR is unwavering and is keeping him excited.  The communication and support are always there and the positivity is contagious.  He loves that even with delays there is support and follow through.
 James keeps his fear of going back to the dark moments in life as motivators for success.  He has no “grandiose” ideas of a huge house and yard, he knows he does not have to be a “hero”- he wants to make the most of this program and only move forward.  So long as he sets goals, stays focused, and stays in prayer, he knows he cannot fail.  His fears include that of becoming complacent and frustrated.  He also does not want fear of success to stand in his way; but, talking to people at ESR and CHO made him realize that he doesn’t have to fail, what he needs to do is work and keep focused.  He has decided to put his demons in the closet and move on and not give up on the dream or goal.  He feels that there is something spiritual going on with this program and it’s helping people like him.  He is very much looking forward to having security again.  He feels that having his own home makes him feel like a man and he wants to be his own man again.
            He is currently renting a home which he hopes to buy (through the program).  When I asked him if he had any plans for when he buys a house his mood lifted and I saw the possibilities flash through his eyes.  He shifts in his seat and throws out various possibilities for his future, some of those were the idea of having someone to share his home with, maybe getting a couple more animals, or he may join big brother/big sister.  He likes to sing and may bring people for karaoke- the options are endless.  He hasn’t thought too far ahead in what he would like to do once he buys the home, but the one thing he knows for sure is that he wants to create a home like his grandmother’s home.  He wants to create a place where no matter where in the entire world he is, he can think of that couch in the living room and know that he is home.  James also wants anyone who wants to visit to know that he has a door open and they are welcome.  James smiles and laughs at the fact that he realized he loves to cut grass.  He has to cut the grass at the house he currently rents, and feels that if he is going to mow a lawn it may as well be his own.
As a parting question I asked James what he wants to get out of the program, and he said he wants to gain discipline.  He wants to learn how to budget and how to make informed purchases.  He would also like the ability to pass on the knowledge he gains through this program to someone else.  He defines the New Century program as,  “People helping people to learn how to help people.”  He takes a moment to collect his thoughts, and with tears welling up in his eyes he tells me, “I don’t ever have to be ashamed again of who I am or of what I’ve done wrong.  This program along with the other things I have experienced the last four or five years is going to help me have that confidence back and not be ashamed, and say hey this is me, that I’m okay.” He says that it is “time to man up, make goals, and get through this.”
            I asked James if he had anything he wanted to say to those who may be reading this, and what he wants people to know, “Don’t let anyone tell you no.  No cannot be a part of your vocab.  Don’t let anyone else determine your dreams…Just do it, not because of anyone else, but because of you.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The New Century IDA Reporter, and Winter Home Maintenance Tips:

Here is information on the distribution of our upcoming newsletter, and winter home maintenance tips.  Hope you enjoy!  -Andriana Bicanin. 

The New Century IDA Reporter is a quarterly newsletter and paper version of this amazing blog; it is currently in the works for a winter 2010 production.  We are embracing all forms of communicating to our wonderful participants, alumni, sponsors, and community.  This newsletter is for those old fashioned folks such as myself who prefer paper news.  Only this past year have I personally embraced the use of the internet for news sources and information I would otherwise have sought out in paper form.  But alas, it is the 21st century and a new decade in the 21st century, and these forums are an easier way to share information.  This blog and our upcoming newsletter are in a way conjoined.  Both will have seasonal maintenance tips.  Both will have interviews.  Both will have the same awesome writers, bloggers, and inspiring messages.  The difference is the content length.  Whereas the blog can be as long and drawn out as the blogger wishes, the newsletter will have an introduction for blog articles, far shorter articles, and will be more on the statistical side.  We realize that not everyone has the internet, so the newsletter is a relevant and informed news source that merely has shorter articles and is accessible to those without the internet.  If you would like to be put on the mailing list for our newsletter shoot me an email at:

Seasonal Home Maintenance Tips: Winter

            The following is the continuation of the “Seasonal Home Maintenance Tips” article in the first issue of the New Century IDA Reporter.  Maintaining your home and readying it for the upcoming season is important so you can avoid costly repairs down the road.  If you keep up with the maintenance of your home and get it ready for the upcoming season you are eliminating one more worry.  If you take care of your home with each coming season you can save yourself the high cost of repairs down the road, due to mother nature.  Plan for tomorrow by acting today!  I found the following home maintenance tips while perusing the internet and compiled what I thought were the best.  At the end of this blog you can find websites I found the tips at, in addition to webpages I think are relevant for home repair and maintenance.

Tip #1 - If you have outdoor furniture clean all parts of the furniture, including the cushions, prior to putting it up for the winter. If you cover your furniture, allow for airflow so you don’t get any mold or mildew.

Tip #2 - Check your home around windows and doors for air leaks. An easy way to check for leaks is to move a lighter around the window or door frame and see if the flame moves with a breeze. If you find a leak, you can caulk it or you may have to replace the wood frame.
*If you are unable to repair the leak around a window frame, you can buy a plastic sealing kit from any home improvement store that can be placed on the outside of the window to prevent air from getting in.          
*For door leaks around the bottom of the door, you can put on a new door sweep. By having these leaks repaired can save you money on your energy bill during the cold months.  
*While checking your insulation in the basement and attic, if you see any dark, dirty spots, it may indicate you have air leaks coming into your home. You will need to try and locate these leaks and repair them.

Tip #3 - You will need to drain the gas out of your gasoline powered equipment during the winter. If you are unable to drain the gas, there are products available in home improvement stores to put into your gasoline for the winter months.

Tip #4 - If you have a gas powered generator you keep on hand for possible power outages, make sure you have containers of gas for the generator. Keep the gasoline stored in a garage or outside storage unit. Also test your generator to make sure it is working properly.
Tip # 5 – Make sure you have a shovel or snow blower.  If you already have one make sure it is in good working condition.  If you do not currently have one right now is the best time to buy one as the stores may get sold out if a heavy snow or snowstorm occurs.  Also get salt for your sidewalks.  If you get it now you avoid getting overcharged and waiting periods that come with everyone else rushing out to buy these items.

Tip #6 – Have your heating unit checked to make sure it is working properly.

Tip #7 – Clean debris out of your gutters; this reduces the chance of ice dams forming.

For more home maintenance tips go to these websites:

If you have any questions, comments, or your own tips for home maintenance, feel free to utilize the comments box below!  Until next time, Andriana

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Their Shoes- the Journey from Renter to Homeowner: Gary and Terri

This was my very first interview with current participants in the IDA program.  Gary and Terri are a married couple with four children ranging in age from four to seventeen.  Despite their busy schedules of work and taking care of their children, they found the time to come into our office in the government building and speak to me and share their story- who they are, where they come from, and why they are in the program.  They just joined the New Century IDA and attended their first economic literacy class on October 4th, 2010.  I am very excited to present to you the first of our several part series of “In Their Shoes- the Journey from Renter to Homeowner.”  -Andriana Bicanin

Gary and Terri are current participants of the New Century IDA program.  They learned about the New Century IDA after talking to friends who have successfully gone through the program.  Their friends provide a source of support as people for whom they can go to if they ever have questions- their friends, family, and Church provide a guiding light through this new venture.  They have decided to go through this program for their own dreams, and to provide a home where their children may create lifelong memories.

Gary and Terri are parents to four children ranging in age from four to seventeen, and are actively involved with their children’s extracurricular activities.  When one member of their family isn’t playing football, they are cheering at football games; their two older sons play football, their daughter is a cheerleader, and when their youngest son turn five next year he will start football.  They are involved with Pop Warner football, and they spend their Saturdays driving their children to and from practice from the early morning to early evening.  For a while now their fellow parents in Pop Warner have urged them to join the Pop Warner board, which they have been fighting, but with a smile directed at Gary, Terri says she foresees them succumbing soon.

They currently rent a house and have not had any trouble renting, but due to the costs of renting a home and their dreams for owning their own home, they are very excited about the prospect of successfully purchasing a house.  They are currently paying over $1000 in rent and utilities and would like to see this go towards a home they can call their own.  Both Gary and Terri grew up in homes their families owned, and because of this they are even more motivated to purchase their own.  Terri is upset with herself for not purchasing a home sooner because she would like for her children to have the memories that only come with growing up in an owned home; and although their oldest son is leaving for college next year they still want him to know he has his own home to come home to.  Gary and Terri are both excited about not only what they can do with the house once it is theirs, but for the knowledge they will gain in the program.  Terri is surprised at how for years she has been budgeting incorrectly; in order to budget correctly one must account for every single penny spent.  She is looking forward to the knowledge she will gain in money management, budgeting, financing their home and paying bills, how to get into a home, and dealing with the difficulty of tracking every penny.  They are looking forward to passing this knowledge on to their children.  They want the ability to tell their kids that  owning a home is a big accomplishment that is within their capability.  Their kids know about their participation in the program, and are excited and ready for mom and dad to say, “We own our own- this is ours.  Instead of saying we got a house- instead of renting.”

They have exciting plans for their house and have home projects and dreams in mind.  Softly swaying in his seat, Gary said he would like to plant scrubs and flowers and do yard work, and shakes his head as he says he is unable to do that now.  He would also like to have a shed- a place in the back of the house where he can go to get away from the world and be by himself, because “That’s what it’s about.”  Terri lights up at the mention of a daycare she eventually wants to open in the house.  Although they have these dreams for their house, the projects and future home of their children, their faces wear the look of hesitation and they remain guarded over their excitement.  When asked if they have any fears regarding buying a home their response is,  “Of course.”  Different things come to mind with this question, such as: job security and health.  As Gary says, “Anything can happen at any time” but their biggest challenge, they say, will be themselves.  They are putting their heart and soul into owning a home for their children and themselves, and as Terri says smiling at Gary, “We are putting our all into this and nothing can hold us back so long as we stick together.”