Financial empowerment helps make dreams attainable

Published on September 2, 2020 in

If the past several months have taught Kaiya Coleman anything, it’s that no dream is unattainable – no matter how big.

In February, Kaiya became a licensed practical nurse, fulfilling a lifelong goal to help others. And with the support of her financial empowerment coach at Matrix Human Services, the single mother of five is also helping herself and her family on the path to a better life.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan supports organizations like Matrix to help the 44 percent of families in our region who struggle to meet their basic needs. With a host of programs including early childhood education, youth and families in crisis, and senior services, Matrix serves more than 20,000 families each year, helping to create more stable households where children can thrive.

“Having United Way as a backing for us is vital,” said Cynthia Elmore-LeJeune, manager of Financial Empowerment Services at Matrix. “They support, understand and see our vision, and that makes it that much more meaningful. That enables us to do that much more.”

Partnering for growth

Kaiya came to Matrix in 2019 through DTE’s Low Income Self-Sufficiency Program (LSP), which provides a subsidized, affordable utility payment plan to low-income families over a two-year period.

United Way recently partnered with Matrix to enhance the LSP with added layers of support that address the root cause of a family’s need for utility assistance. The goal is to help families gain the financial stability they need to sustainably afford their utility bills on their own.

“Financial stability is the first step towards sustained, long-term economic mobility,” said Kalaya Long, manager of Economic Mobility Initiatives at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Families who can routinely cover essential expenses feel less stress and are able to make investments in their economic future. Adults are able to devote time and energy to career advancement and financial planning. They are also able to provide consistent food and shelter to their children and have the mental bandwidth to support them in learning and growing, providing a strong foundation for their children’s educational attainment and employment outcomes as adults.”

Help not a handout

Javay Coleman, Kaiya’s financial empowerment coach at Matrix, described her as enthusiastic and determined to make it to the next level after working as a certified nursing assistant for several years.

“Like a lot of people, Kaiya just needed a little nudge,” Javay said. “There’s a big difference between offering someone a handout and offering them resources. She was looking for resources, and that’s what we were able to provide.

“Becoming a nurse was her top goal, and we were able to help her do that and work toward other goals like paying off debt and building credit.”

Last fiscal year, United Way invested $4.4 million to offer financial resources to families and individuals in the region. We served more than 28,000 people through workforce development or one-on-one coaching, free tax prep services, financial capability training and employment placement.

New goals, new opportunities

Over the past year, Kaiya worked with Javay to develop an actionable plan to finish school and obtain the proper license to increase her income. She also completed assessments that focused on her personal goals, budget, credit and financial health.

“Matrix helped me work towards a better life and better income,” Kaiya said. “I was having a lot of financial difficulties at the time. My family was helping me, but this program was most definitely a blessing.”

When the time came for her to take her state exam, United Way was able to offer her $500 in grant funds to cover the cost of the exam fee, background check and work uniforms. She passed the exam and was offered a full-time job at Hartford Medical Center.

“I was glad for the help,” Kaiya said. “Without it, I would have had to keep saving, and that would have made me push back the timing for becoming an LPN. I wouldn’t be able to do the work I’m doing now.”

Helping others

With COVID-19 sickening more than 100,000 people in Michigan as of early September and new cases continuing to be reported daily, medical staff play a more critical role than ever.

Kaiya is proud of the work she’s doing and says it’s her children that keep her motivated.

“They’re definitely proud of me. It’s stressful. Very stressful, but it’s rewarding too,” she said of her work.

She added that she is planning to go back to school and study to become a registered nurse.

Taking pride in change

Through financial coaching, Matrix helped 273 people like Kaiya build credit and navigate toward long-term goals in 2019.

“We meet people exactly where they are,” Cynthia said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re starting off. We act as accountability partners – building relationships and working towards the goals they’ve set for themselves.”

Both Cynthia and Javay encourage others to take advantage of the financial services and programs that are available to them.

“Many people are where they are financially simply due to a lack of information. Access to information can have a dramatic impact on a family’s available resources,” Javay said.

To learn more about how we’re helping create more stable families, click here.