By OPPORTUNITY COUNCIL
Eight families recently graduated from a free financial literacy course that teaches money management skills and offers monetary incentives. On Thursday, Aug. 31, enrollees who had successfully completed Opportunity Council’s Economic Security for All (EcSA) program celebrated their new confidence and opportunities at the program’s first-ever graduation ceremony.
The program combines education, mentorship, career coaching and planning, and support to overcome barriers to the success of its participants. The year-long course builds financial resilience by helping families start an emergency fund, create a family budget and build credit. Designed to engage the whole family, enrollees with children are asked to include them and receive age-appropriate curriculum.
Program Coordinator Kevi Veldman stressed the financial resilience families gain through the program as they get over hurdles, all the while gaining confidence in themselves and their ability to get through barriers and “accomplish almost anything.”
The program is available to Whatcom and Island County families and individuals who receive SNAP benefits and are searching for employment or on-the-job training. Participants may earn up to $3,200 once their program goals are completed, and families are encouraged to open child savings accounts to deposit $250, each dollar deposited being matched by the program to incentivize starting early on saving.
EcSA mentors collaborate with mentees to develop goals and coach through both group and one-on-one activities, using an EcSA program financial toolkit. Mentors work hand-in-hand with their enrollees to build their financial resilience, making a difference in their lives. Some graduates of the program have gone on to become EcSA mentors.
“The information provided was well-structured and fun to go through,” said a mentor of the program. “It’s empowering for mentors and participants alike because there’s always something to learn from our community. Sharing support is invaluable when it comes to sometimes-touchy topics like finance.”
Participants go through employment counseling with a career coach at Northwest WorkSource. Here, they identify their own strengths, interests, and work ethic. They also develop a career plan that meets their family’s needs.
Families graduate the program better equipped to manage their income and new opportunities. Many continue into a 2-year certification or 4-year degree, or a high-paying job with benefits.
“This program has helped push me to do things that I knew I was capable of all along, and just needed someone to believe in me and give me a nudge,” said a program participant. “I’m very proud of myself for going back to school and pursuing a degree in early childhood education and psychology.”
The financial incentives can be used for all kinds of needs – such as to pay outstanding court fees, get a car, or pay off debt – creating a foundation for success, Veldman said.
“A big weight is lifted off them,” said Veldman. “You see a full-circle moment.”
EcSA is currently enrolling participants, and recently expanded to Island County. The program is running through June of 2025. The program is also in need of program mentors. Those interested are invited to apply online at oppco.org to mentor or participate in the program.