July 10, 2019
Empowering Economic Opportunity Moves Full Steam Ahead

Updates on ECCF’s Project to Help Thousands of Residents Living Below the Living Wage

Empowering Economic Opportunity  is the Alpha Project of ECCF’s Impact Essex County initiative, the Foundation’s lasting commitment to address the most critical issues affecting Essex County’s 34 cities and towns.

In Essex County, nearly 300,000 people – 38 percent of all residents – are living below the living wage, making it difficult to afford life’s necessities. Paying rent, putting food on the table and affording quality childcare is a struggle. It is nearly impossible to save for emergencies or higher education.

Since the EEO’s February launch (link to launch video and/or article), leadership teams from the four distinct programs that make up the project have been working steadily on developing programming to change that. And in the last two months, they have made significant progress towards being able to provide opportunities that will help thousands of people make economic gains for themselves and their families.

“It is really exciting to see the energy, progress and positive response from the community since we launched this project earlier this year,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s COO and vice president for community leadership. “It’s so gratifying when you start to see these programs that will have significant effects on the lives of Essex County residents come to fruition after months of collaboration and planning.”

ECCF is proud to offer these bimonthly updates on Empowering Economic Opportunity.

CREDIT FOR PRIOR LEARNING

Based on the nationally renowned North Shore Community College program, Credit for Prior Learning is EEO’s solution to making higher education accessible to more people, resulting in cost savings, decreased time to graduate and increased earning potential.

Led by North Shore Community College, the coalition of local colleges and universities, the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, Wellspring and Action, Inc. have been working on plans to streamline the process for enabling adult learners to translate their specialized experience and skills into college credits. Since our last update in May, the coalition has:

  • Commenced a baseline needs assessment for all key education partners that will identify each educational institution’s current organizational capacity for Prior Learning Assessment across a continuum of criteria.
  • Hired a project manager, Heather Mayer, a nonprofit professional who has worked as an administrative assistant at North Shore Community College for nearly two years.
  • Launched the planning process for marketing the program to potential participants.

FINANCIAL COACHING AND LITERACY

Financial Coaching and Literacy, led by Essex County’s five Community Action Agencies, is EEO’s program focusing on financial empowerment through financial literacy education and one-on-one coaching.

Individuals without a strong financial literacy foundation borrow more money, accumulate fewer assets and pay more in financial product fees. EEO’s Financial Coaching and Literacy Program focuses on a shared financial empowerment model integrated into each one of Essex County’s Community Action Agency’s existing adult programming.

Since our last update, the coalition – which also includes community colleges, financial literacy providers, community volunteers and banks such as Santander – is developing, and in some cases has already launched programming.

  • Community Action, Inc., has launched its first cohort of 15 financial literacy students.
  • Action, Inc., Lynn Economic Opportunity Inc., North Shore Community Action and the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council are developing tailored curriculums with plans to start launching programming in the fall.
  • The coalition is identifying and involving additional volunteer, funding, training and program partners.

SMALL BUSINESS RESILIENCY AND VENTURE FUND

This project, led by Mill Cities Community Investments (MCCI), expands a successful commercial lending program in Lawrence for non-bankable small businesses so they can continue to create jobs and drive community and urban revitalization.

An investment in small non-bankable businesses is an investment in local supply chains, employees and property owners that results in jobs, local wealth and the virtuous cycle of commerce.

EEO’s Small Business program was already in the works when the Sept. 13 gas crisis hit, but we continue to learn and gain perspective about small business resiliency and growth from ECCF’s relief work in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

( Read more  about how EEO’s Small Business Resiliency and Venture Fund is being informed by business relief work in the Merrimack Valley.)

The EEO Small Business Resiliency and Venture Fund program continues to develop the expansion – both in scope and geography – of MCCI’s Lawrence-based commercial lending program for small non-bankable businesses. And the coalition – which also includes municipal agencies, the Lawrence Partnership, banks, small business and technical assistance agencies and higher education institutions – aims to have the expanded program complete by the fall.

This first expansion will include the towns of Andover and North Andover, with the ultimate goal of scaling the program to more of Essex County.

ESSEX COUNTY THINK LABS

ECCF sees opportunity in convening cross-sector leaders connected to our region’s economic development to build relationships, share ideas, learn together and identify solutions. ECCF will use its ability to convene key stakeholders and attract experts around special areas of focus at discussion groups called Think Labs.

Essex County Community Foundation continues to research and cultivate topics around which to gather business, municipal and community leaders, nonprofit organizations and others with a vested interest in discussing solutions to challenges that impede Essex County’s economic success.

Over the next six months, ECCF will begin to introduce some of these Think Labs in our region. Topics may include Economic Development, Urban Investment and Renewal, Climate Change, Life Below the Living Wage, Disaster Preparedness and many others.

If you are interested in being a part of these discussions, or want to learn more about Essex County Think Labs, please stay tuned for more information.

Column: Systems of support help local students make gains

Column: Systems of support help local students make gains

Though the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students is not yet fully known, what we do know – and what the early data confirms – is that learning has suffered, equity gaps have widened and the time to come together to create systems that work for all students is now.

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