OPDC’s JobLinks launches financial opportunity center model for workforce clients


Walter, a JobLinks client, and Darryl, a JobLinks employee, shake hands as Walter completes financial literacy and Certified Nursing Assistant training.

Last month, OPDC’s JobLinks program launched a new financial opportunity center (FOC) that will better empower and equip our workforce clients.  JobLinks serves over 600 people each year, 85 percent of whom are women, and two-thirds of whom are African-American.  Many are seeking independence for themselves and their families—something the FOC model helps many achieve. Neighborhood Allies is funding the program, which will be the first of its kind in Pittsburgh.

The goal of a financial opportunity center (FOC) is to build client wealth, as measured by clients showing gains in net income, improvements in credit scores, and increases in net worth. The three components of the model are employment services, income support (ensuring eligible clients know how to access various public benefits), and financial coaching. JobLinks already provides the first service and is working to fully integrate the other two into our programming.

“A key aspect of the FOC model is that community organizations bundle and sequence services under one roof, rather than offering just one component,” says Bryan Perry, OPDC’s Director for Workforce and Strategy.  “It’s a comprehensive approach to economic security.  We will enable clients to resolve immediate crises, acquire skills and credentials, get better jobs, and build the savings needed to prevent the next crisis and build for the future.”

JobLinks launched the new program by integrating financial literacy training and credit counseling into our long-established Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes. We contracted NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania to help roll out the model. Margie Howard, an Education Specialist from NeighborWorks, worked with CNA students on topics such as budgeting, building savings accounts, analyzing spending habits, and goal setting. Check out the photos from the classes here.


Margie and Shaquile from NeighborWorks discuss budgeting at JobLinks CNA class.

“Our goal is to change behavior people have when dealing with money,” Margie says. “We work individually with clients to help pinpoint vices like coffee or cigarettes, and come up with strategies to reduce, control, and redirect that spending. We track a client’s progress anywhere from 12-18 months, depending on their goal.”

During the classes, students shared stories of spending habits and debt burdens and dreams of home ownership and better credit scores. “The sessions were really interactive and fun,” Margie reported. “The students said they expected it to be boring but were pleasantly surprised. They didn’t realize it would be more of a peer-to-peer style conversation.”

Students were surprised to learn in the first class that many employers are now checking credit reports of potential job candidates. In each class, Margie encouraged students to sign up for a free, private credit report and budget session with their financial counselor, Shaquile Coonce. Three of the students took advantage of the offer immediately.

“My goal is to buy a home,” says LaVonda Kyte, one of the CNA students. “I previously tried to go through a Section 8 program to achieve this goal, but didn’t have the minimum credit score required. Shaquile is going to work with me to bring my credit score up so I can receive the financing I need to become a home owner.”

“Often, additional students will contact us to set up an appointment after the class, because they didn’t want their classmates to know they needed the help,” Margie added. “Dealing with money is such a sensitive topic for many people.”

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national organization that collaborates with community development groups, piloted the first FOC program in Chicago in 2006. Early evidence indicates that clients who receive bundled services are three to four times more likely to achieve a major economic outcome (such as staying employed, earning a vocational certification or associate’s degree or buying a car) than clients receiving only one type of service.

JobLinks is making a difference for clients every day.  “I walked in here without knowing anyone. I’m leaving here with nine new friends and so many new skills,” said Walter Barnett, Jr., another CNA student whose goal is to become a Registered Nurse. “I didn’t think I could do this and I’m proud of myself.”

If you’re interested in learning more about JobLinks or our new FOC model, or you want to refer someone for services, contact Bryan Perry at 412.621.3821 ext. 23 or bperry@opdc.org.