By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Isn’t part of the American Dream to be financially secure, especially when retirement nears? That dream often seemed out of reach for low to moderate income individuals and families in Kansas City’s urban center, but now there’s a realistic resource for them.
The Prosperity Center for Financial Opportunity recently opened on the Rockhurst University campus’s north side at 5151 Troost Avenue. It is located in Rockhurst University’s North Parking Garage, a multi-use facility which includes an Urgent Care office, the Prosperity Center, and other storefronts serving the surrounding community — residential, college and business.
The Center, which officially opened June 18, provides employment counseling and placement services, financial education and coaching, and public benefits access. A collaborative partnership between Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the Full Employment Council, Rockhurst University, the Greater Kansas City LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), and the United Way of Greater Kansas City, it is designed to help clients increase net income, credit scores, employment-retention, and net worth over time.
Its programs and services are based on the model, Centers for Working Families, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, established in 1948 by UPS co-founder Jim Casey and his siblings, and dedicated to helping build better futures for low income children in the United States. The Prosperity Center combined that model with LISC’s comprehensive Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) approach, and is part of a nationwide network of 70 FOC’s in 30 cities.
FOCs use a 3 -pronged approach to increasing family income and wealth by providing financial literacy education with individualized coaching; job training and development, and access to public benefits. Over the next two years, two more FOC sites will be opened in the Kansas City area, the second to be at Truman Medical Center.
According to the Center’s literature, recent studies have shown that the “vast majority of Americans lack adequate knowledge of important personal finance and economic concepts. Following the economic decline of the past six years, many Americans now find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Navigating public benefits programs can often be complicated, overwhelming and confusing.”
The Prosperity Center initiative was launched more than a year ago; funded by Bank of America, State Street Corporation, U.S. Bank, Sprint, Waddell and Reed, the Regnier Family Foundation at the Bank of Blue Valley and other funding partners.
An open house was held June 14 at Rockhurst University’s Greenlease Library. The University president, Father Tom Curran, told those in attendance — media, neighborhood residents, staffers from Catholic Charities, the Full Employment Council and community organization board members, among others — that it was Flag Day, “a historic day” especially in Kansas City’s urban core, because of the “realistic opportunity and hope” engendered by the Center’s opening.
The center is “right in the heart of Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone,” he said, “right in the midst of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. There are more than 55 million households in this country that are under or unbanked, many of them right here.”
The Prosperity Center, directed by Kourtney Woodbury, MPA, will assist individuals and families obtain long term financial health, he continued, using the FOC’s 3-pronged approach.
Father Curran said the Center “addresses the notion of improving the economic quality of life in a wealth-stricken community, and it’s open for business!”
The Prosperity Center will target residents living within the Urban Neighborhood Initiative — 22nd Street south to 52nd Street and Troost Avenue east to Highway 71.
Woodbury enlarged on Father Curran’s comments, saying that the Center’s “services are designated to help low and moderate income families achieve prosperity and financial stability through job placement and benefit program access. It may be a one-stop shop for financial education, but remember: real economic inclusion takes time and work.”
She said the center will “focus on building long-term relationships and becoming a community resource with the capability to raise families’ hopes.”
A workshop July 11 introduced clients to the principles of financial education: deciding to start; understanding the terminology; developing good attitudes/values; setting goals by breaking them up into manageable segments, staying aware of and always trying to improve credit scores. Becky Gripp, a Catholic Charities financial educator, gave an overview of setting SMART goals —Specific, Manageable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Sensitive — and asked the clients what their goals were. Most said increasing net worth through employment and making good decisions. Setting and keeping SMART goals, she said, was an important path toward attaining that goal.
The FOC model has been shown to change lives, according to national data compiled by LISC, about 30,000 people have been able to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck and achieve real financial stability. Nearly 75 percent of participants who have committed to working with a financial education coach have improved their monthly cash flow and net income. Approximately 12,500 individuals have landed jobs and more than 6,000 people improved their credit scores, a key to more affordable economic options.
The Prosperity Center represents the first community development project bringing together Rockhurst University, Catholic Charities and the Full Employment Council. The Center is currently staffed by Anwar Jones of Catholic Charities, who serves as financial education coach, and Tiffany Brown of the Full Employment Council, who works with those who are unemployed or underemployed, including coaching through mock interviews. As time passes, more coaches and counselors will be brought on board. Jones said, “It takes time. We do one-on-one and group financial education programming and coaching, which is the primary focus of long-term financial interventions.”
He said the benefits access component helps people navigate the system of income supports, both public and private. “Success is measured by the number of services our clients can access. They will have increased their income, improved their credit scores and long-term job retention,” all of which will improve their net worth in the long run.
Prosperity Center services are free of charge. It is open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Tuesday – Friday and 8 a.m. – noon, Saturdays. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (816) 501-4239. The website is www.ProsperityCenterKC.org.