A reflection from one of the first people to enroll in our new FSS program in Philadelphia

In late October, Compass celebrated our new FSS partnership in Philadelphia at an event hosted by GreenLight Fund - Philadelphia. The event included Philadelphia’s top leaders across the nonprofit sector, corporate executives, entrepreneurs and investors, and city and state government leadership, as well as our partners Philadelphia Housing Authority and Clarifi. 

Akirah Pressley, who is one of the very first people to enroll in this new program, shared the following words at the launch event:

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Good evening. My name is Akirah Pressley, and I am one of the first people to enroll in the Compass FSS program run by Clarifi.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I am 26 years old, and have moved over 20 times in my lifetime. That is one reason why my main goal in this program is to become a homeowner. I want a place called my own, and the stability that owning a home can give.

The other reason I want to own a home is my son. He will be 9 years old next month. I don’t want him to go through the same things that I had to go through. I want him to have a place that he can point to and say “this is where I grew up.”

I had my son young, when I was 17. I’ve learned a lot of things since then, but I’ve had to learn them on my own. I want better than what I had and where I came from. I want better for my son.

If it wasn’t for PHA, I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. I know a lot of people are embarrassed of being on PHA. They won’t go in to ask for help or resources. And there’s a lot of people with negative things to say about people on PHA, like you’re walking around with all this extra money because PHA helps with your rent. You have to understand that the money you earn is broken down into a percentage. And I still have to pay my own gas and electric, get to work, take care of my child. What I want is to not have to wonder where I’m going to get the money to take care of things in my life, to have to choose between paying a bill or something else. I’ve been working at it, and every year I become better.

But I feel like if I had had someone to guide me, that there’s a lot of things I went through that I wouldn’t have had to go through. 

Clarifi is one place that has already really helped me. I’ve been working with Clarifi since 2015. I feel appreciated at Clarifi. I feel like you all care that I am a person who wants to do better. You want to help me because I want to help myself. With Clarifi’s help, I’ve worked on bringing down my debt and have started to build some savings. I have saved what I could, but I would like to have been able to save more.

I know I need to save more in order to reach my goals, and this FSS program means I don’t have to do that alone, on my own. I started off in my first job making $5,000 a year, working part-time as a retail associate at Macy’s. Now I work as a one-to-one assistant in Philadelphia Public Schools, and have another job as well.

I know with this program that the more I make, the more I save. The program rewards me for hard work. That’s a motivation for me. Right now, I’m in school part-time for early childhood education. I plan to eventually open my own daycare business. And when I do, I want it to be a place where other parents can learn about programs and resources that can help, because I am the type of person who will share what I learn, when I find something that’s beneficial to me.

I also share what I learn with my son. At 8 years old, he already knows things like the difference between a credit and a debit card. He has also started his own savings, and we are planning to open a savings account for him soon.

To close, I just want to say that I believe that everyone deserves a chance and an opportunity to do better, and that there a lot of people in Philadelphia who are looking for a program like this. Thank you.

With your help, we can reach more families like Akirah’s in Philadelphia and across the country. We hope you will consider supporting our 2018 year-end giving campaign. Your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to our $15,000 fundraising goal, if you give by December 31st.

Compass hosts first annual graduation celebration in Cambridge, MA

On November 13th, over 100 people gathered to celebrate the first class of graduates from the FSS+ program that Compass runs in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Guests included program graduates, their families, Cambridge Housing Authority and Compass staff, as well as several friends and supporters of Compass.

Click here to see more photos>

Together these 86 graduates saved over $460,000 in their program savings accounts over the last five years! These graduates have used those savings to improve their financial security and work toward their financial goals, such as purchasing a home, improving credit, or building emergency savings to ensure that an unexpected challenge in the future doesn’t push their family off track.

The evening included dinner, remarks from Compass and Cambridge Housing Authority staff, a presentation of certificates, and reflections from two members of this graduating class.

Program graduate Nanouce Saint Fort shared about how she has opened a college savings account for her son, and her progress toward her goal of becoming a nurse. “I’ll be the first one to say that I’m in a much different situation today than I was five years ago, and I know I’m not the only one! I think many of us here can say the same,” Nanounce shared. “This program helped me see that opportunities are out there.”

Gardite Fougy, another program graduate, shared how being a mother of three children encouraged her to join the program and work toward her goals - like improving her credit and becoming a homeowner. Thinking back on life before she enrolled in the FSS+ program, Gardite had this to say: “I remember always thinking about how I was going to survive through next week – put food on the table, put gas in the car to go to work, living paycheck to paycheck…All of us here have come such a long way. I hope that what we can show other people is that they can do it, too.”

From all of us at Compass, congratulations again to all of the graduates. We can’t wait to hold more celebrations like this one in the future, which are made possible by people who choose to make Compass a part of their charitable giving.

We hope you will consider supporting our 2018 year-end giving campaign. Your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to our $15,000 fundraising goal, if you give by December 31st.

Compass Clients Enjoy Donated Red Sox Tickets

In August, Ken Patrick, Compass supporter and Advisory Board member, generously donated Red Sox tickets for Compass to offer to a family in our programs. Telesha, a client in our FSS program in Cambridge, attended the game with two of her children. Janaya (12) was especially excited because she loves sports and the history of Fenway Park. She aspires to be a professional sports journalist in the future. Janaya makes her debut as a young sports journalist with her recap of the game here.

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians
By: Janaya Mervin Blevins

It was the 8th inning and the Red Sox were on the plate. It was just about over since we were so far ahead, and there was no catching up. I wanted to leave but my mom had her heart set on catching a ball. “Trust me I can feel it, just hold on to my sweater and be ready to catch the ball.” I just said “ok” and I did what I was told. The ball would come to our direction but miss us every time. It was the 9th inning and I was just about ready to give up on this whole catching a ball thing until I heard screaming and yelling. I turned my head and there was a ball heading towards us. There were shouts and my mom said "get the sweater!"

I am so happy I listened to my mom! That was a wonderful day that I'll never forget. I can't wait to tell my grandkids this story.

Mike Turgel: Advisory Board Profile

“You know that feeling when there is music playing in your head and you don’t know the words, and then you hear the words and it all clicks?” That’s how Mike Turgel, the newest member of Compass’ Advisory Board describes the first time he heard Sherry Riva, Compass’ Founder and Executive Director, describe the organization’s mission. “And I just thought to myself, ‘wow, this is phenomenal.’” 

As a Portfolio Manager on the Bank Loan team at Eaton Vance Management, Mike knows the importance of savings and assets very well. He first learned about Compass when he became a partner several years ago in the Boston chapter of Social Venture Partners – an organization which connects and supports donors to make a greater impact on their local communities. When Mike described his philanthropic interests to the then-Executive Director of SVP, she knew that Compass would be a perfect organization for him to learn more about.  

“One of the first things I did was sit in on a financial education workshop at the office in Lynn,” Mike describes. “The Compass coach was talking about budgeting and credit scores. It was real time, real world examples of the mission statement. I got to see the work playing out in real time and I was sold.”

As a member of the Advisory Board, Mike is especially looking forward to helping Compass build its overall capacity to fulfill its mission, including how Compass continues to support families after they graduate from a Compass program. He is excited to bring his experiences and expertise to the table. As a student at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Mike says he gained an appreciation for the value of shared ideas. He sees the Advisory Board as a place to think about ideas and challenges from multiple angles in order to help them take better shape. He also knows the value for any organization of staying laser-focused on its core competencies. He saw this in Compass’ work and it was one of the elements that attracted him to the organization.

Mike is a Massachusetts native and now lives in Needham with his wife and their two children. We are thrilled to welcome Mike to the Compass family.  

Compass helps secure major policy victory for FSS program

As part of our mission, Compass is committed to shaping national practice and policy to promote financial security and economic mobility for families with low incomes. 

Recently that work took a big step forward, with the passage of the federal Family Self-Sufficiency Act. This legislation will make several important changes to the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which is the federal government's largest asset-building program for families with low incomes, reaching more than 75,000 families each year in communities across the country.

Compass has been working for over a year with our policy partners and members of Congress to advance this legislation. Several aspects of the bill were surfaced from our direct work on the ground with families in our local FSS programs and from partners in our National FSS Network. I also testified before Congress on this legislation last fall.

It is very encouraging for us to see Congress take action to improve the program, which points to continued strong bipartisan support for FSS. For those of you familiar with how the FSS program works, changes made in the legislation that are particularly important to our work include:

  • a change to an existing rule that prevents families who earn more than 50% of the area median income from building escrow savings in FSS (now increased to 80%)
  • permanent authorization for private owners to offer the FSS program
  • the creation of an innovation fund at HUD to support promising new approaches to operating the FSS program
  • a requirement that HUD implement a performance-based system for awarding FSS grants

We are thrilled with this outcome. It is a major milestone in our push to expand the scope and impact of the FSS program on a national scale. We look forward to working with our partners to help shape HUD's implementation of the bill's provisions over the course of the next year.

Compass joins the Closing the Women's Wealth Gap initiative

Compass recently joined Closing the Women's Wealth Gap, a national initiative to advance policies and strategies that build wealth for low-wealth women and women of color. 

As the initiative notes, "In recent years, the national discussion about the causes of—and solutions to—inequality has focused on income. But for women, a focus on income alone is insufficient because the gender wealth gap is far greater than the income gap."

This initiative is closely connected to the work that Compass does every day with women and their families. The majority of Compass clients are women of color with dependent children. Media wealth for single Black women and Latina women is just pennies on the dollar compared to white men and white women. 

Click here to learn more.

Work Requirements for Housing Assistance Are a Disaster

Slate's A Better Life Lab published an article on the FSS program featuring Compass client, Gardite, one of many remarkable clients graduating from our FSS program operated in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority.

The article is a testament to the importance of Compass' work on a national scale, particularly amidst efforts by the federal administration to implement work requirements in housing and other public assistance program.

Congress Should Increase HUD Funding in 2019 to Prevent Voucher Cuts, Help Children Escape Poverty

Compass and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities both call on Congress to increase funding for the Family Self-Sufficiency program to $100 million in 2019, which would allow up to 30,000 more families to participate.
Read more here.

10th Annual Breakfast Benefit

This year’s breakfast program featured stories from Compass clients and staff, and a special guest speaker - Andrea Campbell, the new President of Boston's City Council. It was also a chance for us to lift up and celebrate the ways in which our work has grown over the past year, including the expansion of our National Network to serve mission-aligned partners in seven states across the country.

Amatullah Mervin, one of our client speakers, shared her experience as a participant in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program that we operate in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority. In her remarks, Amatullah talked about what the program has meant for her, her sister (who is also enrolled in the program), and their family: "People talk about the cycle of poverty, and I hesitate to say this, but it can really be more of a curse. We’ve seen how it passes from one generation to the next...My sister and I are both breaking that cycle for ourselves and for our family."

We also shared a video featuring Lidia German, who is a recent graduate of the FSS program that we operate in partnership with Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development. Lidia is one of 46 clients whom we celebrated at our second annual FSS graduation in Lynn last week. Together, these 46 clients have saved over $310,000 in their FSS savings accounts, and used those savings to reach their financial goals. For Lidia, that goal was to own a home, where she could gather her children and grandchildren together. As Lidia shared, “I have accomplished more than I ever thought I could. It’s the best feeling to be able to own my home.”
View photographs from the Breakfast here.

Brown Advisory NOW 2018

Sherry Riva, Compass' Founder and Executive Director,  joined a panel discussion last month on the women's wealth gap. The panel was a part of NOW, Brown Advisory’s flagship client investment conference. Sherry was joined on the panel by Elena Chavez Quezada, a founding partner for the Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap Initiative. Thanks to Brown Advisory for lifting up this important topic, and for including Compass in the conversation.

Boston Magazine: The 100 Most Influential People in Boston

In its May issue, Boston Magazine published its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in Boston. Two members of the Compass family made the list this year, including Greg Shell (pictured here), our founding board member, and Betty Francisco, Compass' General Counsel. We are thrilled to see both these leaders recognized alongside many others who play major roles in shaping the city of Boston.
Click here to see the full list.

Naming Our Core Values

Over the past year, Compass entered into an organization-wide process to define our organization's core values. While these values have always been at the core of what we do and how we do it, the act of coming together to thoughtfully articulate them was an important exercise at this moment in our organization's history. These core values guide everything we do, from how we work together as a team to how we engage with our clients and partners in pursuit of our mission and vision. Together, they make a powerful statement about who we are and what we stand for at Compass.
Click here to see the full list.

AFCPE® Financial Literacy Month Spotlight: Carlos Langa, Esq., AFC®

AFCPE® (Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education®) is celebrating Financial Literacy Month with a spotlight on Accredited Financial Counselors across the country, including Compass Program Manager, Carlos Langa.
Click here to learn about his favorite personal finance resources. 

Abt Policy Brief

Following the release of two reports from their study of our local Family Self-Sufficiency programs, Abt Associates recently released a brief on the implications of these studies for national practice and policy.
Click here to read more and to view the brief in full.

Lynn, MA 2018 Graduation

On April 12th, Compass and our partners at Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development honored 46 graduates of the Lynn FSS program. Together, these graduates saved over $310,000 in their FSS savings accounts, and used those savings to reach their financial goals. It was an honor for us to celebrate these incredible families.
View photographs from the graduation here. 


Abt Associates releases interim cost-benefit analysis of Compass programs

Today, the global research firm Abt Associates released an interim cost-benefit analysis of Compass Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The study found that participants in these programs gained more than $10,000 in increased income over a five-year period as a result of participation in the program, at a net cost to the government of only $276 per participant. The $10,000 figure accounts for reductions to participants’ federal benefits, such as federal welfare benefits, as their earnings improved. These reductions - along with other cost savings - offset 97 percent of the cost of administering the programs.  

Click to read the full report.

Early Results from Compass-POAH Partnership Captured in Whitepaper

For the past two years, Compass has partnered with the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) to implement some of the very first FSS programs in the country for families who live in properties like the ones POAH owns and manages: federally subsidized affordable housing that is owned and managed by a private organization or company. Early participant outcomes from these programs have been very promising, and are captured in this whitepaper that we co-authored with POAH about the partnership. Click here to read the report.


Social Innovations Journal: The Compass Family Self-Sufficiency Model

Social Innovations Journal: The Compass Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Model

The Winter 2017 issue of the Social Innovations Journal is a collection of articles on promising social innovations that have been introduced in Greater Boston, including a piece by Sherry Riva, Compass's Founder and Exectuvie Director, on the organization's innovative, evidence-based model for the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Click the image below to read the full article and view the rest of the issue.