Seasonal job insecurity meant financial stability was just out of reach for Antonio Gregory and his family. But last year, after connecting with a LISC-funded Bridges to Career Opportunity program in Detroit, Gregory got the certifications, financial education and support he was looking for, to advance in work and in life.
This April, we’re highlighting our financial stability work to celebrate National Financial Literacy Month.
During Detroit’s long, cold winters, construction work slows down and jobs are scarce for a self-employed electrician. Antonio Gregory had faced that reality for too long, seeing his income drop for six months of the year, taking out loans to keep the household afloat, and never being able to build much savings.
In May 2017, looking to find employment with a local union and forge a more stable life for his family, Gregory joined the Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) program at SER Metro-Detroit, an employment and social services agency in LISC’s nationwide network of Financial Opportunity Centers.
The SER program is free, but it requires commitment and motivation. Classes run six hours a day, five days a week, for more than two months. For Gregory, the demands of the training were well worth it.
Financial Opportunity Centers combine employment, financial and income support services to help clients define their goals, train for living wage jobs and build financial stability. In the BCO program, Gregory took training courses that earned him an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA 10) certificate and a National Career Readiness certificate as well as certifications for safety procedures and renovation and repair skills.
Gregory also worked with an employment coach to build a professional development plan, which included updating his resume, conducting mock interviews and other job placement support. SER’s income support team, meanwhile, guided him through the Medicaid application process to get Gregory, his wife and their four children health coverage.
After completing the training program, Gregory landed a job as a first-year, full-time apprentice with Millwright Local 1102 at $16.80 an hour which, with overtime, more than doubled his take-home income to $3,000 a month—and he has since earned a raise. “BCO went over and beyond,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone going into the skilled trades.”
But Gregory is the first to point out that the program offers much more than job skills training and income support services. It provides in-depth financial education and coaching that help insure a better salary translates into enduring financial stability. During Gregory’s training, a SER financial services team gave workshops to his cohort on topics like credit building and money management. Gregory and his wife, Tiffany Bazzelle (who also joined the BCO program), met regularly with SER financial coach Jesica Rubio. “We pulled his credit report and built a budget and an action plan,” Rubio recalled. “We talked about what their goals are and where they want to go.”
Working with Rubio, Gregory settled a collection report and has repaid debts of more than $4,000, accumulated while he was self-employed, including a car loan and two open lines of credit. As a result, his credit score has begun to climb.
Gregory also opened checking and saving accounts at Michigan First Credit Union, including a “rainy day” fund to tide the family over any unexpected troubles. Rubio said she often recommends the credit union to her clients because they charge no, or very low, fees and offer many credit-building tools. Earlier this year, Gregory opened a secured credit card there as well.
A crucial part of the FOC model is working with clients over time to reach their long-term goals, even after they’ve finished the initial training. Since completing his BCO courses and employment placement work in the summer of 2017, he has remained in contact with SER staff, coming in to talk with Rubio about finances and even speaking about his experience to the latest cohort of BCO participants. Rubio helps Gregory check his credit score twice a year, and touches base with him at least once a quarter.
In less than a year, the BCO program has helped Gregory and his family make extraordinary strides towards their goals. “Antonio and Tiffany’s household has really changed,” said Rubio. “Tiffany has gone from a stay-at-home mom to being employed as well, and they’re building assets for the future.”
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