EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 28, 2013

Center opens for those seeking to help themselves

By Warren Talbot

---- — LAWRENCE — Perhaps a family has fallen on hard times and needs advice on how to budget limited funds, or an individual wants to know how to go about repairing a damaged credit report to improve his or her financial footing.

If that’s the case, the Lawrence Financial Stability Center at 50 Island St., which had its official opening yesterday, is a service available to those residents of the Greater Lawrence area.

“Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in the commonwealth and we have many families struggling with credit, savings, managing their finances and accessing jobs,” Juan Bonilla, Director of Asset Building and Home Ownership at Lawrence CommunityWorks, said following yesterday’s grand opening.

The opening was attended by State Treasurer Steve Grossman and community development leaders and representatives of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

United Way has committed $600,000 to CommunityWorks over the next three years to run the center. Officials anticipate the center in its first year will bring assistance to more than 500 people.

Similar centers funded by the United Way are in operation in Lynn, Chelsea and Boston.

“Financial education leads to financial stability, and this new center will provide the residents of Greater Lawrence with the resources they need to improve their lives and economic future,” Grossman said.

In the fall of 2010, United Way approached CommunityWorks to collaborate in creating a one-stop facility offering the financial education support services. CommunityWorks has been in existence for a decade and has built a network of 5,000 members around the city.

“We know that many individuals and families are still struggling to save and manage what limited financial resources they have. These centers are working to provide the coaching and financial education needed to help people overcome their specific financial challenges for long term success,” said Michael K. Durkin, President of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

“This is a landmark opportunity to take our efforts to a new level, working with key institutional partners such as United Way to advance these efforts citywide,” said Jessica Andors, Co-Executive Director of Lawrence CommunityWorks. “Our members have clearly told us that this kind of programming and coordination is critical to supporting local families’ ability to thrive and move the City forward.”

“We’ve done asset and financial education work for a long time, but we’ve only been able to help between 500 to 1,000 people,” said Bonilla, of CommunityWorks. “This will help expand our services and help more families.”

Bonilla said the program is open to families and individuals seeking to help themselves. “It’s open to families who after they figure out what they want, we help them create a plan that they can execute so they can achieve more goals.”

He said these can range from better employment, a new career, managing their money, pursuing higher education, buying a new home and investing for their retirement.

“This will provide more options for individuals to achieve their goals and dreams. When it comes to financial planning, we do that one step at a time,” Bonilla said.

United Way has already invested over $290,000 in Lawrence CommunityWorks programs over the last three years.

In Lynn, Chelsea and Boston, residents who visit the centers can take advantage of services aimed directly at helping them achieve a more financially secure future, including free tax preparation and support for the often-unclaimed earned income tax credit; financial coaching, including budget management; debt counseling and credit counseling and repair; and access to education and workforce development services.

In Lynn, for example, free tax preparation helped more than 1,000 families in 2012, returning more than $1.7 million in refunds to the Lynn community.