Financial Education and Empowerment for Self-Sufficiency

When I first learned about the honor of being selected a Champion of Change I was thrilled and quite literally speechless. Then I was filled with great pride in my team because of their hard work and passion that has contributed to this award. This is about the impact we have made in the lives of families we serve. Most of all, I am proud of the individuals and families who reach out to us, often under the weight of profound grief and fear and still find it in themselves to reveal very personal and painful circumstances, and then take the steps necessary to build their knowledge and access the resources to rebuild their financial positions, their confidence, and their lives.

I am also proud to represent an agency that is trusted by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development to offer struggling families hope for their futures through financial education, and foreclosure, housing, and reverse mortgage counseling, which complement our ground breaking Individual Development Accounts (IDA) program, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites.  I am thankful for our local partners – banks and lenders, business owners, and our many volunteers who have shared their resources with us and deserve our gratitude always. The Champion of Change award offers all of us in northern Kentucky and the Greater Cincinnati community a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the success of our intentions. In a single year, we assisted 1,929 people to decrease their debt, improve their credit rating, avoid foreclosures, become homeowners, and/or to set up savings accounts through a match from our IDA program, and we collaborated with Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law to provide tax preparation for 913 northern Kentuckians who received a total of $1,561,935 in returns – often with EITC that lifted them above the federal poverty level.  While these numbers are important, they don’t convey the human factor that influences the funding and support of our partners and drive us to go above and beyond.  

For 45 years, Brighton Center has offered individualized options with respect for diverse values and the right of individuals to make their own choices. Our experience influenced the remarkable service framework we now offer as a Financial Opportunity Center model.  We have been recognized by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and United Way of Greater Cincinnati as a Financial Opportunity Center, shown by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to assist transformative change derived from higher rates of employment, retention, and earnings, increased occupational skill attainment, improved workforce quality, and reduced welfare dependence.  This means that we offer a full continuum of services as a la carte, bundled, or wrap around, based on individual needs. Our structure allows us to provide highly effective reinforcement of services that draw people with any critical need into a broad selection of supports, ranging from basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing, to financial education and workforce training. Then from our full continuum, we fill gaps for support to address cause rather than symptoms. From quality child care to substance abuse treatment, the goal is always a path toward self-sufficiency that we call financial opportunity.

I am excited about the new strategic plans developed by HUD and the Veterans Administration because they define collaborative services that can best assist individuals and families toward self-sufficiency. I am excited about the inter-departmental cooperation of federal agencies that are moving forward social innovation through community-based agencies like Brighton Center to offer the best return on investment possible – supports for hardworking people who are then positioned to give back to their communities. I am gratified for this opportunity to showcase the value of Financial Services and Brighton Center, and perhaps influence these new collaborative models of service.

Stephanie Stiene serves as Director of Financial Services, a department of Brighton Center, Inc.

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