When SCC staff member Janine Lotti tells new clients how long she has been associated with Somerville Community Corporation, many assume she is joking. Some respond with, “Well, you must have been a little girl when you started here.”
She was. Our Asset Building Specialist remembers SCC’s first location on Summer Street, running up an down long stairways to hand out flyers for the organization, and attending ham and bean dinners. “Those were the days when my mom would make a big pot of beans,” she shares. Her dad, Norris Weston, was one of the founders of the organization, and Janine got an early education on social and economic justice and community empowerment. “It was always a part of my life,” she shares.
Janine took those lessons with her to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she earned a B.S. in journalism and wrote about a variety of social issues. After college, she returned to Somerville to think about a career motivated by mission and community service, and she renewed her involvement with SCC. The organization was celebrating a milestone anniversary, and she was asked to be part of the planning committee. She became a member and volunteer, and she eventually was asked to serve on the board.
Serving with Passion
“I had been involved with the organization in various capacities for over 10 years and always so proud of being part it. I did a little bit of everything,” explains Janine. “I got involved in different committees and [city] hearings. I always attended the Annual Meeting, made phone calls – all things that members do.” And her commitment led to board service and the role of board president a few years back.
When she learned that the asset building position was open in 2016, she jumped at the opportunity to apply for it, and to serve SCC and the City’s residents and businesses in another capacity. Janine brought to her candidacy a master’s degree in instructional design, years of professional experience in designing educational and enrichment programs for adults, and a certificate from the Leadership Development Institute.
Janine also knew Somerville and the needs of its residents well from her work with the Somerville Council on Aging and SCALE (Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences), part of the Somerville Public Schools which provides classes and support services to more than 1,200 adult learners each year. Perhaps the most important asset to Janine’s candidacy was her familiarity with, understanding of, and passion for the City and its residents.
As the Asset Building Specialist, Janine is an indispensable member of the Economic Opportunity Department. “I help people see that they have economic opportunity and can build on what they have,” she explains. “I do that in large part through the financial education classes that I facilitate.” She helps people think about out how to use the money they have now – even if quite limited – to live their best life, and she talks with them about setting goals for the future.
She also facilitates the First-Time Homebuyers classes. “A home is probably the biggest asset that people will see in their life,” Janine says. “So, we do our best to help people realize that you can achieve that.” She adds, however, that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to find homes in Somerville. But the seminar provides participants with information about programs available to help low to moderate income people do just that.
Experts from different part of the home-buying process are brought in for the classes to prepare people for the experience. “Some people leave saying, ‘I am so ready,’” Janine states. “And some people leave the class saying, ‘I’ve got some work to do, but boy am I glad I took this class.’’’
Of course, Janine’s work links closely with the First Source jobs program. Job seekers with limited income during the search process value the financial literacy information and advice that Janine can provide. “And sometimes they get a new job with a new set of opportunities,” Janine states. And she can help them create a new budget that reflects new priorities and prospects.
When asked what she has enjoyed most about her new job to date, Janine says, “It’s really the small things.” She relates that one of the Financial Literacy participants sent a note to let her know that he had opened a bank account, was doing very well with saving and was considering returning to school for accounting. Others have written to ask for the First-Time Homebuyers certificate, because they were preparing to close on their first home.
According to Janine, the beauty of SCC’s financial literacy program is that it does not offer a cookie cutter or one-size-fits-all approach to money management. “I’m not going to tell you to do X, Y and Z with your money,” she says. “I am going to tell you to just be aware of where it is going and make careful choices.” This, says Janine, is the first step toward a brighter financial future.
To learn more about the financial literacy or First-Time Homebuyer classes at SCC, please call Janine Lotti, asset building specialist, at 617.776.5931, ext. 228. (All classes require pre-registration.)