Friday, August 26, 2011

Individual Development Accounts: Find Out What They Really Are!

If you have never heard of Individual Development Accounts it can be hard to grasp exactly what they are. But they are an innovative approach to breaking the cycle of poverty, and they are essential to the work of the New Century IDA program.

Individual Development Accounts are part of a nationwide movement that was fueled by research done by Dr. Michael Sherraden.  His extensive research concluded that with guidance and support, people living in poverty will save money. Dr. Sherraden has said, “You can’t spend your way out of poverty, but you can save your way out.” This is a model of empowering those with moderate to low income through asset building. Across the country, Individual Development Accounts are used to help people put money into matched savings accounts for higher education, small business start up, and first time home buying.

New Century IDA helps each participant in the program open Individual Development Accounts and save money that will be used to become a first time homeowner. Here comes the good part. After successful completion of the program, which includes attending classes and meeting with a success coach, each participants’ savings are matched either 2:1 or 4:1. What a great incentive to partner with New Century IDA and begin working towards your dream of becoming a homeowner!

The New Century IDA program promotes economic self-reliance and has been referred to as “hope in concrete form.” It is not just a quick fix. It truly helps the people of Forsyth County break the cycle of poverty. Click here for an application and to join the New Century IDA community today!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Assets and Financial Security

Do you know what assets are? It turns out they are essential for financial security. The report “A Prosperity Grid for North Carolina: Connecting Households and Communities to Economic Prosperity” released by the North Carolina Assets Alliance is helpful for understanding what assets are and the significant impact they have on our families and communities. The report defines assets as resources that generate a financial return. A savings account, college education, a home, retirement savings, or a small business are all examples of assets. Having assets helps families survive tough financial times, plan for the future, and pass on resources to the next generation.

The impact of having assets extends beyond income. They are also important for achieving important economic, educational, health and developmental incomes. They are linked to social  well-being and civic engagement, health and psychological well-being and child well-being. For example, children raised in households with assets are less likely to drop out of high school and have higher educational expectations. Assets are also related to lower mortality and better health outcomes such as increased childhood immunization and improved nutritional status. Children raised in households with assets are more likely to reach key cognitive development outcomes,  maintain improved physical health, and reach key social-emotional development milestones such as having higher self-esteem.

The North Carolina Assets Alliance estimates that 22.5% of households in the United States and 17.5% of households in North Carolina are living in asset poverty, which is “a measure of whether a household can support itself with savings or available assets at the Federal Poverty Level for three months if earned income was lost.” This is of real concern because households living in asset poverty are especially vulnerable to economic downturns and are at a higher risk for losing their middle class status once reaching it.

The New Century IDA has long realized the importance of assets. As stated on our website, the purpose of the New Century IDA program is “to promote personal, economic and financial self-sufficiency by the creation of wealth through asset building, reducing debt, promoting savings, improving credit and development of economic literacy skills.” Through guidance, education, and asset building, New Century IDA helps people in our community break the cycle of poverty and sets them up for success. The financial literacy skills gained through this program are invaluable. If you are trying to break the cycle of poverty in your family or community, partner with New Century IDA today!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Adventures

As fall is rapidly approaching, many of us are preparing to start new adventures. This week marks the beginning of something new for me, as I begin my year of service as an Americorps VISTA at the Forsyth County Department of Housing, primarily working with the New Century IDA program. As a 2009 graduate of Wake Forest University, I am happy to return to Winston- Salem where I can enjoy ACC sports (Go Deacs!) and good southern cooking. My puppy Lola is adjusting to life in Winston- Salem and is anxious to explore Pilot Mountain and other walking trails in the area.

The New Century IDA program in Forsyth County is one of the most successful in the country. Since 1999, over 440 people have successfully completed the program by becoming homeowners. Owning a home is a goal for many Americans, but the process can be tricky and intimidating. The New Century IDA program empowers people to reach the goal of home ownership by offering financial literacy classes and matched savings accounts. As a young adult living on a tight budget, I can appreciate how valuable this extra guidance can be!

The Department of Housing is fortunate to have many partners throughout Forsyth County who share a vision of asset building and of making home ownership a reality for people in our community. These partners help make the New Century IDA program such a success. I look forward to meeting all of you in the upcoming weeks and collaborating this year! I am also excited about getting to know clients of the New Century IDA program as I hear your stories and learn how we can serve you better.

It is exciting to join a program that provides such a valuable service to the community. I look forward to working with all of you this year, as we strive to insure the continued success of the New Century IDA program and reach out to new communities. This is going to be a great year!

Rachel Bates
AmeriCorps VISTA

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

IDA Success Stories: Rocio

We did it!!!!

My name is Rocio, I’m a single mother, and I have a 12 year old daughter named Alyssa. This is our success story:

I was tired of living in apartments, paying rent to people and never seeing any good results out of that scenario. My dream was always to own my own home, but to me it was “only a dream”.

I wanted my own home, but being a single mother and not making a lot of money, I never thought I could own one. I used to go out on weekends to see open houses, just dreaming, and in my mind thought, “I will never have anything like this…How...With what money...My credit is not that great…What can I do...Who could help me...” All those questions ran through my mind, but no answers.

In May 2004, I heard about Granite Mortgage. I went to see them and they told me about Ashley Powell. Mrs. Powell gave me all the information that I needed and she also gave me hope. Ashley gave me the name of realtor Phillip Rector. In the beginning I didn’t want to call Mr. Rector because I ad a lot of bad experiences with other realtors, but one day I finally called him, and I have never regretted it since. Mr. Rector told me about the IDA program, and sent me an application. I was immediately contacted by Mrs. Bianca Green, and she guided me every step of the way. The IDA program was one of the best things that happened to me and my child.

During this time I hit a few bumps, like car problems etc., but I always had the support of Mr. Rector and Mrs. Green, and the IDA program. Every question was answered and they always encouraged me to keep going. I wanted a home. And this year, on Friday January 13th, 2006 I closed on my DREAM. I have a house; I still can’t believe it! I, Rocio, have a house with a 2 car garage and a yard my child to play in. This has been a great year! Not everything was easy and it took a long time and a lot of patience, but I finally did it.

So, please don’t give up! Because if I can do it, anybody can. I thank God everyday for giving me the courage to keep going.

May God bless each and every one of you.

Rocio and Alyssa.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Living on SNAP (Food Stamps): Conclusion.

Over 40 million people in the United States depend on SNAP in order to feed themselves. A 2009 study found that of the households using SNAP, 47% of recipients were children, 8% elderly, and 64% of adult, nonelderly recipients were women.

The amount of people on SNAP is rapidly increasing, although program funding is constantly at risk of getting cutback. These statistics do not cover the amount of people who are eligible for food assistance, but do not apply. They may not apply because of pride, they are unaware of programs that can help them, or they do not know where to go and how to apply. Because of this, there are many more uncounted Americans who go hungry every single day. Of these groups, the elderly are the least likely to apply for food assistance.

The millions of people utilizing SNAP are men, women, children, and the elderly. They have different upbringings, educational levels, are mixed in age and race. But, an alarming amount of those on food assistance are single, female heads of household and children, and the amount of elderly in need is far more because the elderly are most likely to not apply for aide. Those who use these programs the most are also the most vulnerable members of our communities.

This blog series shared the stories of three Americans who used SNAP and food stamps in order to feed themselves: a 22 year old college graduate who found herself homeless; an emancipated youth faced with harsh reality of attending school fulltime, and trying to feed herself and her fiancĂ© on two part-time jobs; and myself, a college graduate and AmeriCorps worker, who grew up on food assistance. Although all stories are different, we share one commonality: we previously used or currently use SNAP in order to feed ourselves. Hunger takes on many faces, and the stories shared in this series are not the “typical” idea of who utilizes food assistance in order to fulfill their needs, or as Stacy said, “So I can eat more than a sack of potatoes.” When we open our hearts and eyes to trying to understand who seeks assistance, it is a step forward in finding a solution to eradicate poverty in not only those groups, but for everyone.

My story, along with my friends stories are only three of millions. All three of us are educated, young women who found ourselves in need. Now, with our stories still relatively fresh in your minds, I leave you with these questions: Who deserves to go hungry, why do they deserve it, and what is the true face of hunger; is there one? On that note, why are so many people unable to save their money, despite working several jobs?

Written by:
Andriana Bicanin
New Century IDA
2010 - 2011

IDA Success Stories: A Single Mother of 2 and the Family Caretaker Reaches for the American Dream

I am a 42-year-old single African American with two sons, ages 15 and 24. My elderly father and his sister are also in the home. Currently, I am employed with the Forsyth County School System as a Teachers Assistant. I wasn’t familiar with any program in Winston-Salem area that would work with families that needed some assistance to help them become self-reliant.

I was at home when I received a phone call from one of my friends telling me about a program that she would like for me to participate in. However, she knew that financially I would be unable to do the program in its entirety. So, she asked that I come and hear her lecture because she knew it would benefit me somehow. By hearing her lecture it helped me set financial goals, budget planning, insurance and many other things. I was so glad to have received that call. The young man who met me at the door recognized my name and introduced himself and told me to please enjoy the lecture. At that point it was very clear to us that financially it would take a miracle to be able to participate in this program and purchase a home. But, thanks be to God the young man I met earlier was able to work out a way for me to participate. I was given sound advice from a team of workers through the IDA program.

Later, my IDA worker told me about the Self-Sufficiency Program at Experiment in Self-Reliance. I was approved for enrollment and needed additional assistance with budgeting skills, assistance in acquiring information on citizenship for my sons and father who are currently in the United States on Visas, and financial assistance to stabilize my household. This program would further enhance the ability to become a homeowner and self-reliant through a series of intense case management session during my monthly visits.

Things have come together for me. My family is receiving regular medical services. I have increased my annual income and learned some basic budgeting skills. Each month I continue to work with my case planner on developing those skills, and others that will help me become economically self-sufficient. I meet with my case planner once each month, and maintain telephone contact to ensure that no additional barriers arise that would hinder my progression to self-sufficiency.

I have finished the IDA Program by building a new home from scratch; and I may add I am the first one out of the group to have a home built. Even though some may believe that it just happened, I know that God had a plan and it was just unfolding.

I am thankful to God who is first in my life for making all of this possible for my family and myself. I am so grateful for the friends that God has placed in my life to be angels and they are not even aware of that. Please continue to make these programs available to others who aren’t able to do it alone.

Just imagine five persons living in a home and only one working. To purchase this home is nothing but a miracle for my family and me. That’s why the name of my home will be The Miracle House. ESR and IDA programs provide assistance to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to better themselves and their situations.

If I had not been given the opportunity to be a part of the ESR/IDEA/Self Sufficiency programs, I would still be renting a house that would never be mine, struggling to manage my expenses each month, and I would probably be making the same amount of money I was earning before ESR, because I didn’t have a home to call my own, thereby making me feel more motivated to keep what I worked hard to accomplish. Also, my family would still be wondering when they would become citizens of the USA. My boys are just days away from becoming citizens and my father would have the same opportunity in a very short while.

Thanks to all of you for being there in my time of need.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Living on SNAP (Food Stamps): Part Four

From the time I was 4 – 18 years old my dad worked as an apartment manager in one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. As part of my dad’s job we received a free apartment. My dad was on call 24 hours a day, worked 8 AM – 5 PM (always more), and made $1500 a month. My mom worked 2 jobs. I remember staying up late at night with my sister and waiting for her to come home from her graveyard shift. She would bend on her tired knees, my sister and I ran to her, and she tiredly scooped us in her arms, gave us kisses, and then led us to bed. The little money my parents earned, working a combined 200 hours a week, supported my dad, mom, me and my sister, along with utilities and other daily expenses. We were on the lower economic scale, and I had absolutely no clue.

There are those who grew up poor and knew they were, and there are those like myself, who had no idea. Amongst other indicators, one of the things that should have been a clue were the free lunches I received. My parents always made sure we had food in our bellies, and extravagant breakfasts and dinners. School lunch was sometimes embarrassing though. In the 2nd grade my teacher harassed me because my parents didn’t buy me a $20 punch card and I sometimes didn’t have money with me to buy lunch. On those days I had to go to the office and receive a credit. My teacher rolled her eyes and lectured me in front of the class. This was the first time the defining “P” (poor, poverty) was metaphorically embroidered onto my chest. As a child I didn’t understand why my parents didn’t just give me the $20. I begged them to give me $20 so my teacher would stop singling me out. Later, in high school, I received free and reduced lunch. Although surrounded with my peers who wore designer clothes, drove luxury cars, and went to Europe for their vacations, my homeroom teacher assured me that other students received free lunch; I had a hard time believing it. Walking through the lunch line, choosing food items that did not surpass the 5 free dollars, I grew aware of the “P” searing through my clothing and making my skin sweat. As an already self-conscious teenager I felt a spotlight on me as I inched forward the school line, approaching the piece of paper the cashier held with a list of the other poor kids.

Later in life, I chose to apply for AmeriCorps*VISTA, and in turn chose to live in poverty. Unless you have savings, or family support, an AmeriCorps member is going to need to use food assistance in order to feed themselves. The process of acquiring food assistance is sometimes confusing and emotionally draining. When I first chose to apply for food stamps I made very little money and was not allowed a second job, because of the nature of my work. Here is a breakdown of my expenses:

My 2008 – 2009 Budget:

Income:                       $800

Car:                              $150
Rent:                            $525
Fuel:                             $75
Soap, shampoo,
toilet paper etc.:            $50

Total:                          $800

Perfect! Right? Not exactly. I made exactly enough to pay my bills (not even, my sister paid my cell phone bill). On months when fuel costs exceeded my budget I walked the 4 miles to work and the 4 miles from work. Western Washington is known for its rain. The air holds a lingering scent of rain, and when the gray skies don’t release its steady rainfall, it still clings to the streets. Due to this, when I wasn’t walking through rain on these journeys, my feet were soggy 100% of the time I arrived at my destination. Now, take a second look at my budget and see if you can find anything missing. Did you find it? Food is missing (as well as savings). I had absolutely no money to pay for my food expenses, and that is where SNAP and food pantries came into play.

My first year applying for food assistance wasn’t difficult. I had the other occupants of the house I rented from write a note saying that we didn’t share food (which was true), I had a note from my landlord saying how much I paid in rent, and at that time any assets you owned counted against you, so I brought paperwork concerning my car and pathetic bank account. The caseworker was extremely nice, had worked with AmeriCorps members in the past, and I received my food assistance card in the mail within a month.

I only received $60 to start out. Hungry, often, I left work during lunch in order to get nourishment from a local food pantry. This in itself is a humbling experience. A Church ran the food pantry. Each visit I signed in and waited to hear my name. I waited about 30 minutes. My name called, I sat across the worker feeling ashamed. I wanted to tell her that I worked 40+ hours a week, I’m only there because I’m paid so little but work so much and am not allowed a second job; I wanted to let her know that I’m not a drinker nor am I on drugs. I did not say any of those things, though, and silently sat across the smiling worker as she punched keys on a computer and told me to wait in the waiting room for my box of food.

I started my service year weighing roughly 150 pounds. Although the hunger pangs whenever I saw my coworkers lunches were bothersome, I showed no signs of nutrient deficiency or hunger; not for another 4 months at least. Four months into my service term my skin had a scattering of acne, my hair thinned, and I weighed a slender 140ish pounds. By the end of my service-term, in January 2009, I weighed 128 pounds. The last few months of service I received $90 a month in food assistance. No longer embarrassed, I utilized the resources in my community. I needed food and I didn’t care who knew it. At times, I went to a grocery store and received less than friendly looks, and one time the cashier insinuated that I didn’t work and then sneered at me. She literally sneered at me. Of all the nerve! But those are the types of things that sometimes happen when you are a recipient of social welfare. Look at my own mindset when I first went to a food pantry. I sat in embarrassment and wanted to tell the worker that I worked, didn’t drink, and didn’t do drugs. Why would that cross my mind? Why did I feel the need to explain and prove myself? It crossed my mind because there is a social stigma attached to receiving aide. I held some of those beliefs, and as much as I believe in supporting your neighbors, and in social welfare, in the back of my mind I held stereotypes and preconceived notions of the “type of person” who receives aide, (and cue the irony) despite having grown up receiving such aide.

When a person decides to apply for food assistance it’s a decision that’s made after all other resources are drained, and you find that you just cannot buy enough food to live. My first year of AmeriCorps service was an emotionally trying and character building year. When I was unable to adequately feed myself I sought assistance. My food allowance was $60 - $90 a month. I frequented food pantries. I had no savings. I was hungry. I needed help.

I am currently in my second year of AmeriCorps*VISTA, and in using SNAP. In my two years of use, I have encountered dirty looks and snide remarks; this past year it took three months, 10+ phone calls, two denials due to not turning in paperwork I turned in three times, and a supervisor who works for the county in order for me to cut through red tape and receive benefits before I starved. When I complained on Facebook about the run-around I received trying to acquire SNAP, a college friend commented, “That’s unfair! You’re a college graduate and work 40+ a week!” Well, the same goes for millions of other welfare recipients.

My story is slightly different, but also the same as that of the millions of people who use SNAP. Post-college, my story is different because I chose to live in poverty. I was told how much my pay was going to be. I knew that I was not allowed a second job. It’s also  the same as millions of other people because of the way I grew up. When I talk to my parents they sometimes share their regrets over not having money. My mom sometimes cries over it, and my dad still swears he will win the lottery and we’ll live on Easy Street. Our wealth is one of their greatest heartaches. I know that if they were able they would have made enough money to keep us in the middle class, not reliant on other people, with savings in the bank. I’m sure that other tired parents, individually working 80 hours a week, only able to see their families in the dead of night, in between jobs, would choose a life of self-sufficiency over assistance. I’m sure they would choose a life where they did not need to rely on food assistance; a life where their children’s stomachs are not aching, they can concentrate on their work and not the food they long for, and not have their names on a list, wearing their poverty as a badge.

Written by:
Andriana Bicanin
2010 - 2011
New Century IDA