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Philadelphia LISC Opens City’s First Two Financial Opportunity Centers

July 27, 2012

When Michael Benson was laid off from his job as a digital court stenographer with the City of Philadelphia, he felt lost. With no college degree, few job prospects, and a high city-wide unemployment rate, the situation was grim. Benson spent two months unemployed before a family friend told him about a career placement and job training program at University City District (UCD).

Given his background in technology, UCD placed Benson at Penn Medicine’s growing health information technology department. “When we first started, we were doing a lot of professional development; I needed time to evolve and to develop the right skills for the job,” said Benson. He quickly learned to analyze medical data and manage a variety of projects. After several months of apprenticing, Benson was offered a job at the program.

UCD’s program supports participants’ personal growth as well. Benson and his fellow participants receive a full-time salaries and career-coaching, while their employer pays for them to attend classes and obtain relevant Associate Degrees. Benson is working toward a degree in Management Information Systems at the Community College of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia LISC is supporting and building on proven local workforce development programs like that of UCD through Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs). In addition to job training, FOCs provide participants with one-on-one financial coaching and public benefits. The centers are based on a successful national model that LISC is implementing at 65 sites in 25 cities nationwide. Philadelphia LISC is opening this city’s first two FOCs this summer.  

“FOCs focus on the financial bottom-line for low and moderate-income people,” said Andrew Frishkoff, the Executive Director of Philadelphia LISC, “FOCs bundle complementary services for clients to make the greatest impact in their lives. We help them increase their income, decrease expenses, and acquire assets. It is a proven strategy for changing people’s financial behavior and improving their long-term financial outlook. We are thrilled to bring this program to Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia LISC is partnering with two seasoned community development corporations to operate these centers. University City District, building on their strong track record in workforce development, is operating an FOC at the Community College of Philadelphia’s West Philadelphia Campus. A second FOC in Eastern North Philadelphia will be operated by Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, who have a long history of providing supportive services in their community.

LISC, along with these partners and several funders, celebrated the opening of these FOCs in a ceremony on Thursday at Philadelphia Works, Inc (formerly PWDC). The ceremony was followed by a tour of the West Philadelphia Financial Opportunity Center, where stakeholders had the opportunity to see the Center in use and speak with staff and program participants.

The FOCs are supported by State Farm, a longtime funder of LISC. “Part of State Farm’s mission is helping individuals realize their dreams,” said Marcia Tompkins, the Northeast Zone Public Affairs Manager at State Farm, “We are proud of our work with LISC and the partnership and funding of the FOC. It’s an example of a private-public partnership coming together for the community.”

The Citi Foundation, The Walmart Foundation, and the Oak Foundation also provided funding for the FOCs.

“In all of our giving efforts, the Walmart Foundation strives to meet the unmet needs of low-income individuals and support organizations that help people live better,” said Tim Smyer, Market Manager, Walmart Stores. “The Walmart Foundation is very proud to contribute $200,000 to bring these Financial Opportunity Centers to the West and Eastern North Philadelphia communities.” 

“Becoming knowledgeable in making short and long-term financial plans, achieving goals and understanding financial products are essential skills in today’s world,” said Don Haskin, SVP and Pennsylvania Community Development Director. “The Citi Foundation is deeply committed to financial inclusion for low and moderate-income individuals, families and communities.”

LISC and its partners are committed to making lasting impact on the lives of its FOC clients. The programs are designed to help participants achieve their long-term goals. Some, like Michael Benson, through UCD’s workforce development program, are already on their way. “My career coach is very helpful; she helps me learn how to conduct myself in meetings, sharpen my professional skills, and set long-term goals for myself professionally and personally,” said Benson. He hopes to continue his work at Penn Medicine, and stay enrolled in school even after completing his Associate Degree. Eventually he hopes to attain an MBA.

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