How Goodwill is taking new approach to Charlotte's economic mobility issue

June 2018

Charlotte Business Journal By Alex Sands -- If Charlotte is going to raise its dead-last ranking in economic mobility for a major U.S. city, people need more than just a steady paycheck. 

To climb out of generational poverty, there needs to be steadiness in multiple dimensions of life, according to researchers from Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. The research identified five pillars of stability -- health and well-being, family and individual stability, financial preparedness, skills development and career progression -- and concluded that without one, future success could be compromised. 
With that in mind, Goodwill has taken a new approach to the economic mobility problem. 

The Economic Mobility Collaborative, a three-year pilot program launched last June, focuses on long-term support and guidance through emerging challenges. Fourteen people are currently enrolled in the EMC's first cohort. These members have personal coaches and support groups to help with finances, work, health and other skills.

Between coaching, classes and "family nights," participants dedicate five to ten hours a week to EMC. They receive services from partner organizations like Common Wealth Charlotte, a nonprofit offering financial education, and Charlotte Community Health Clinic, a provider of low-costs medical care. 

So far, the pilot has seen success. Ninety-six percent of members who set employment goals reached them, two members opened savings accounts, two bought cars, one is about to buy a home and is building a home-based business and one paid off all debt. 
Although they've achieved these financial goals, the program's new approach to economic mobility takes the focus off the dollar sign solely and onto stability in other aspects of the members' lives. Three members reported increased exercise and healthier eating, four are enrolled in degree-completion programs and one member, Adele Lindee, strengthened her communication skills, which led to her promotion as lead medical assistant at the Charlotte Community Health Clinic. 
She moved out of shared living into her own apartment and starts nursing school this fall. But it wasn't an easy year for her at EMC. Her fiancĂ© died unexpectedly in a car accident. If it wasn't for the program and her coach, she imagines she wouldn't have handled the tragedy as well. 
"EMC has helped me with that very, very much," she says. "If this was me last year, I don't know what state of mind I would be in." 
A year after forming the first cohort, Goodwill is ready to expand the initiative. It is trying to raise $1.1 million to add two more cohorts by the end of 2018, affecting up to 75 individuals. Each cohort will complete three years in the program to ensure there is long-term support, says Shelly Cantrell, EMC manager.

The Leon Levine Foundation awarded Goodwill a $350,000 challenge grant to expand the program. An initial $100,000 in immediate support is funding the second cohort, which is in the recruitment phase. Goodwill will receive the remaining $250,000 once it has raised the $1.1 million needed for the program. 

"Our mission is to improve the human condition by creating permanent, measurable and life-changing impact throughout the Carolinas," says Tom Lawrence, executive director of the foundation. "Goodwill is working to do just that by examining the lasting impact that can come from serving the whole individual. Much can be learned from the EMC model as the community begins to bridge the opportunity gap in this region."  
A United Way of Central Carolinas grant of $175,000 is going toward the fundraising goal. United Way's grant to Goodwill grew by 1% this year as the organization shifted its spending to focus on generational poverty.

Many of the services provided to EMC members are under one roof at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus, an 18.5-acre site on Wilkinson Boulevard that opened in 2016. It's home to the Leon Levine Opportunity Center, a 160,000-square-foot building offering services such as health care, banking and financial literacy and support for those with a criminal background. 

This article was originally posted in The Charlotte Business Journal.