Somerville Community Corporation has partnered with the Somerville Housing Authority to help public housing residents meet education, employment, and asset-building goals through an initiative called LEAP (Learning, Employment, Asset-Building Program). The state-sponsored program, now midway through a five-year pilot, has connected residents of the Mystic and Clarendon developments with current SCC staff members Lori Segall and Janine Lotti. A third partner, OneFamily, Inc., helps participants access higher education and training options.
Lori helps participants improve their employment situation. “Many of the participants in the program work very hard for very little pay,” she says. “LEAP provides the opportunity for participants to take ownership of their strengths, experiences, and skills, and to market those effectively so that they can get a new or better job.”
Ms. E is a great example of how Segall works with participants. Ms. E was not happy working part-time in the medical field. In her home country, she worked in a far more sophisticated environment with a challenging laboratory job. Lori worked with Ms. E to hone her resume and to promote her extensive skill set. These efforts paid off, and the program participant had an interview within weeks for a new job. Lori worked with Ms.E on interview preparation. She then helped her feel confident negotiating for higher salary and benefits. The result: A much higher-paying, satisfying position at a Boston hospital.
Janine teaches Financial Literacy classes, and encourages participants to examine their saving and spending habits. She also works with them to figure out a plan of action to better finances. “This model works best when you are willing to let people figure things out on their own, and when you provide support and gentle nudging when it’s needed,” she says. “Most people just need to know that someone is one their side and rooting for their success.”
The successes she sees are most evident when participants make positive changes on their own. She smiles and describes two different single moms enrolled in LEAP. One has battled a complicated medical condition, and the barrage of overwhelming paperwork that accompanies it. The other has faced a litany of court appearances regarding overdue accounts sent for collection and the resulting low credit score.
Both moms, with support and “gentle nudging” from Janine, have seen positive changes and outcomes. They have become strong self-advocates, and have enrolled in college-level classes. Both, coming from very different circumstances and situations, have begun to look at spending and saving in a much more positive light.
“Mass LEAP in Somerville is an excellent example of partnership models that create an alliance among housing, education, and workforce agencies,” says Natasha Sierra, the Somerville Housing Authority’s Mass LEAP coordinator. “It’s rewarding to hear and to witness stories of SHA residents who have an improved quality of life because they have been able to grow their earned income and assets.”
photo: SCC Asset Building Specialist Janine Lotti