Program to help people gain financial autonomy

"The Federal Way Multi-Service Center is launching a program that could help hundreds of South King County residents achieve financial independence.The Family Management Education Program will target local homeless families, single mothers and others who have never learned the basic building blocks of financial independence, such as opening a checking account or budgeting for groceries, says Katherine Morgason, community relations director for the center.The program will be made possible, in part, by a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a federal Community Service Block Grant. Program managers still need to raise another $35,000 for the program through matching donations, corporate donations and fund raisers, Morgason said.The need for such a program in South King County is tremendous, she said. The Multi-Service Center served 27,000 people through various programs in its last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Of those, 11,000 people used the center's food and clothing banks.If they're at the food bank, they're probably not worrying about their retirement fund or how to manage a checking account, Morgason said.The aim of the program is to give people the tools to break the cycle of poverty rather than offering one-time help - the idea behind the old proverb Instead of giving a man a fish, teach the man to fish, said Elizabeth Elliott, a grant writer for the center. The center serves about 25 percent of King County's welfare recipients.We saw people who were trying really hard to change their lives and just weren't making it, Elliott said. ...We realized we had to go beyond just giving someone a bag of groceries.Two prongs of the four-part program already are running - goal planning and financial management. Program administrators hope to have the rest up and running early next year, Morgason said.The other segments are how to be a good neighbor, which focuses on community safety, and personal health, such as nutrition.The program will be tailored to each person who participates in it, Elliott said, so that people who know how to open a checking account but not how to budget don't have to review what they already know. Binders will contain eight learning segments that people can work through at their own pace with the help of facilitators.However, some subjects, such as goal planning, will be offered in workshops.Morgason said the program is designed to help people by giving them the tools to become financially independent so they don't have to rely on an outside agency to pay for food, clothing or utility bills. Elliott said most people have the ability to attain financial independence, but many don't have the tools or support they need, or never had role models who showed them how to manage money. Often these people live paycheck to paycheck, and don't have a contingency for emergency.In another case, one woman who utilized services at the center didn't know about budgeting or operating a checking account, but did know how to save. She'd stashed money in several different envelopes rather than using a bank and earning interest or investing, Elliott said.Getting a job and earning money is a hollow victory unless you know how to manage that money, she said. If people have the skills, they can apply them.-------------At a glanceThe Federal Way Multi-Service Center is a private, nonprofit community action agency. It offers a wide range of services, including energy crisis intervention, housing assistance, adult and family literacy services, Homeless Education to Achieve Readiness Tomorrow, employment skills training, work maturity and job readiness programs for WorkFirst and under- and unemployed people, and the Children Active in Recreation and Education program, which provides childcare to low-income families.It's also the state office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. For more information, call (253) 838-6810. "

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