by Riley Tuff, MSW Community Impact Coordinator, United Way of Collier County
Looking for a job can be a peculiar journey for the workforce of the 21st Century. With limited options and fierce competition for non-degree required positions, earning a postsecondary education is almost necessary to finding gainful employment.
This is an especially pressing issue for single family households. The figures in the most recent ALICE report show that between 62 percent and 70 percent of single-parent households in Collier County are earning less than what is required to adequately cover living expenses. These numbers are significantly higher for those of single mother households.
To address this rising concern The Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida, United Way of Collier County, and Florida Community Bank have joined forces to create our Matched Saving Program. This is an initiative aimed at helping motivated individuals who are striving to earn their education, but find themselves impeded by financial limitations.
The Matched Savings Program operates by offering participants who income qualify, a FDIC secured savings account where every dollar saved gets matched at a ratio of 8 to 1. Between a period of six and twelve months, savers will be able accumulate a total of $4,500 for their education by saving $500 of their earned income and/or tax returns.
However, while those are some pretty inspiring numbers, the monetary benefit is not the main focus of the Matched Savings Program.
The ultimate goal of any successful social service is personal empowerment, which can only be done through offering a hand up, and not a handout. To accomplish this, the Matched Savings Program requires participants to take a few measures of self-development.
The first of these is a series of Financial Literacy Trainings. Before opening their accounts, participants must attend a program approved series of classes which cover a variety of financial topics. These include budgeting, credit cards, loans, and savings and investments.
The second measure occurs after the accounts have been created. Before withdrawing their funds participants must attend four hours of career and education counseling with their academic institution. These sessions will help them formulate a specific plan on how they will use their degree to achieve financial and professional success.
A pilot for the program was launched in October of this year and we are able to serve 40 prospective students. As the program grows it is expected to significantly increase that number. Partnerships with additional agencies in the community are expected to more than double the current program’s budget and allow for an even greater number of participants to be served.
With opportunities like the Matched Savings Program, the path to personal and economic success will become clearer for the workforce of Collier County.