Nikki Velarde, The Belton Journal
July 22nd, the lobby at Extraco Bank in downtown Temple was bustling with balloons and refreshments as The United Way of Central Texas (UWCT) and its partners introduced a new community-wide public, private, faith-based partnership called the United Way S.O.A.R. (Savings, Opportunities, Assets, and Results) Collaborative.
UWCT has partnered with Extraco Banks, the Central Texas Housing Consortium, Helping Hands Ministries, the Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity, Bell County HELP Center, City of Temple, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in order to bring this important financial opportunity to our community.
Despite an improving national economy, far too many Central Texas residents are struggling to achieve long-term financial stability. A new report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), reveals that nearly half of households in the Bell County area are currently living in liquid asset poverty. This is defined as the percentage of households without sufficient liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.
The goal of overcoming poverty and financial instability must not only include strategies to meet each immediate challenge, it must also include long-term strategies that create sustained wealth through savings and improving financial literacy.
“The United Way S.O.A.R. Collaborative will be vital to improving the lives of many in our community,” said UWCT Chief Executive Officer, James Thurston. “For too long, local social service provision has reflected the national policy approach – focusing efforts and resources too narrowly on income supports such as rent assistance, utility assistance, and food assistance. While critical to the immediate well-being of many low-income families, these strategies are not effective in helping these families build long-term wealth.”
The United Way, the Central Texas Housing Consortium, Helping Hands, and Habitat for Humanity will work to recruit and sponsor participants to enter the program, assist with establishing the Boost Account, provide financial coaching, and provide additional training and support related to the participants’ asset choice whether that be home ownership education and counseling, or guidance on choosing and enrolling in post-secondary education or job training.
After enrolling in the program, each participant opens a savings account with our financial institution partner, Extraco Banks. Extraco will handle all financial transactions to and from the Boost Account, just as they do with other types of accounts. The Boost accountholders then receive regular statements detailing how much they have saved and the amount of match they have earned.
The savings program can last between 1-2 years. Participants are allowed to withdraw money as soon as they have reached their savings goal, but they must first get approval from their program sponsor. Some savers will choose to use their funds toward one large savings goal such as buying a home. Others may choose to make several withdrawals for a number of smaller, related goals, such as a computer, textbooks, or college tuition.
“This is the first time a program like United Way S.O.A.R. has been available in our community and we are excited to be included in the partnership,” said Central Texas Housing Consortium Executive Director, Barabara Bozon. “The S.O.A.R. process directly ties a participants’ efforts to greater achievement. Any time households can increase assets, increase educational attainment or a new business opens in the community, we all benefit by having a stronger community.”
“Extraco is excited about our partnership in the United Way SOAR project,” said Steve Wolfe, President of Extraco’s Central Texas Southern Region. “This is a community-wide collaboration that puts people on the path to financial stability. It is our hope, through financial literacy and the IDA savings program, that each participant will attain their goal of purchasing a new home or completing a post-secondary education.”
“Extraco employees run one of the strongest United Way campaigns in our community and that provides the resources we need to launch effective community collaborations like this,” said Thurston. “We are very fortunate to live in an area with such a strong civically-minded community bank like Extraco.”
Thurston also expressed his thanks to the Central Texas housing Consortium, Helping Hands Ministry, and Ft. Hood Area Habitat for Humanity for their financial support of the Collaborative. “Each of these community partners helped establish our community matching fund that enables us to provide the participant matching funds. Their spirit of cooperation and collaboration demonstrate that great things can happen when we work together for a common goal.”
“Because of a grant from the Assets for Independence program at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we are able to leverage our community matching funds with a full 1:1 match so our participants can receive $2 in matching for every $1 they deposit into their Boost Account,” Thurston explained.
“By cooperating with United Way of Central Texas and other nonprofit organizations, we can provide more services that help working class families climb out of poverty,” said Rucker Preston, Executive Director of Helping Hands Ministry.
Not only were partner representatives present to share in the announcement of the Collaborative, but they were also there to congratulate and support some of the first savers of the program. Andy Diluzio, Marie Euresti, Theresa Lewis, and David Martinez were a few of the first area residents to make deposits into their Boost Accounts.
“I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we applaud your determination to build a strong financial future and we look forward to working with you to reach your goals,” Thurston commented.
Andy Diluzio of Harker Heights is working on getting a house built through Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity. Diluzio works part time at the American Legion at Harker Heights and a friend on the Harker heights City Council told him about Habitat for Humanity and through it he learned about S.O.A.R. “It’s very difficult maneuvering through my mobile home since it’s not wheelchair accessible,” Diluzio said. The program is helping him reach his goal to save enough money in order to build his home to be wheelchair accessible.
“It’s one thing to help people raise $6,000 for a down payment on a home, it’s another to make sure they are successful and are getting into a home they can afford,” said James Thurston, Executive Director of United Way of Central Texas. “That’s why the partnership with Habitat for Humanity is so critical. Our hope is that this program continues to grow and we can bring down additional grant funds and open up more slots.”
There are currently eight people enrolled in SOAR, but there are 43 total slots within the federal grant that funds the project. Enrollment for the United Wat S.O.A.R. Collaborative program began July 10 of this year. For more information please call (254) 778-8616.