A few years ago, Cindy Saboe found herself jobless after her then-husband was forced to close his business. When they were evicted from their apartment, he left Cindy with no job, no health insurance and nowhere to live with her four children. Mounting medical fees from a series of incidents combined with back taxes from her husband’s business left her facing nearly $150,000 of debt. She moved into a spare room at her sister’s apartment 30 miles from her children’s’ school.
Soon after, a school district advocate invited her to a United Way conference in Eugene, OR, where she learned about the Prosperity Center at Goodwill Industries of Lane and South Coast Counties (Eugene, OR). When Cindy first came to the center and met Prosperity Program Manager Mark Brauer, she brought in boxes containing every document she could find related to her debt, including bags of mail she and her husband had never opened.
“I told him, this is my ugly frog, I can’t face this anymore. I’m stuck, it’s just too painful,” she said. Little by little, she and Mark worked to condense all the mail into one box. Mark showed Cindy how to apply for food stamps and housing, and together they planned a course out of debt.
Today, Cindy not only has a full-time job at the parts department of Monaco RV, but she has her own apartment near her children’s school and is working toward paying off that debt.
Paving a Path out of Debt: The Prosperity Center Model
The Prosperity Center, housed in the Goodwill’s Workforce Development Center, opened in 2010 thanks to a community impact grant from United Way of Lane County. Since then, the center has helped 227 people improve their financial and employment situations through a unique one-on-one mentorship model made possible by local partnerships.
“We don’t help people, we empower them. We teach them how to network and develop partnerships on their own.”
The center’s participants are “members” not “recipients,” helped by five “prosperity planners,” not “case managers”—deliberate language that helps transition mindsets from reliance on social services to financial self-sufficiency.
New members meet with a prosperity planner for an initial 45-minute meeting and subsequent weekly 30-minute sessions where they discuss career advancement, education, debt reduction, savings, home and vehicle ownership and other related goals.
“We want to empower our members to bring people with them. Our members have become catalysts for growth; they understand poverty and self-sufficiency,” Mark adds. “We don’t help people, we empower them. We teach them how to network and develop partnerships on their own.”
Though the initial grant expired at the end of 2012, the United Way has awarded the Goodwill another three-year grant. The Prosperity Center has also expanded its services to a savers alliance with local credit unions, a program for older workers in concert with AARP, a car buying program in cooperation with local dealerships, and more.
“This really is a long-term commitment for Prosperity Center members. It’s not just a class or marketing effort, it’s coaching and walking someone through what these processes look like,” says Elena Fracchia, associate director for income initiatives at United Way Lane County. She notes that local community agencies are now working together and sharing models of financial strengthening programs. “It’s been great to see what Goodwill has done in the past two years and to see what continues to flourish as the community becomes more involved.”