Building community around financial goals at Bay Meadow Apartments

A resident at Bay Meadow Apartments shows off the vision board she made at a community gathering hosted by the Compass FSS program earlier this year

A resident at Bay Meadow Apartments shows off the vision board she made at a community gathering hosted by the Compass FSS program earlier this year

For clients in a Compass FSS program, the work of becoming more financially secure and making progress toward your financial goals can sometimes feel like something you’re doing all on your own. While a financial coach is there to be a consistent voice of encouragement, clarity, and support, it can also make a real difference when clients have the opportunity to support and learn from one another.

Over the past several months, Christine Torres, a financial coach at Bay Meadow Apartments in Springfield, MA, has been trying out a new idea to build community among her clients in the FSS program. At the property – which is owned and managed by our partners at Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) – Christine has hosted quarterly “gatherings” as a space where clients can connect with one another, celebrate their progress, share what they are learning, and explore a specific financial topic together.

For Christine, the gatherings are all about finding new ways to connect clients with the information they’re looking for to guide their financial decisions, and finding ways to help clients more deeply engage with the program. At the first gathering last fall, clients talked about their plans to navigate the holidays. While the holidays can be a special time, they also can bring stress and wreak havoc on even the best laid financial plans – for any family, but particularly for families with low incomes. At this gathering, clients talked about strategies for getting ahead and avoiding the stress and the pressure to spend, and played an online simulation game called “Spent” to see how spending decisions can impact long-term goals.

Residents, including Luz Ramos at left, working on their vision boards

Residents, including Luz Ramos at left, working on their vision boards

At the second gathering, in January, clients talked about goal-setting for the new year. Clients created “vision boards” using cut-outs from magazines, as a tool to be able to visualize their goals until they are able to make them a reality. Children and other family members even joined in the fun! While building their boards, clients also began to share with and learn from one another – about their goals and visions for the future, and some of the strategies and techniques that have been most helpful to them in getting to where they are so far in the program.

We spoke with four FSS clients at Bay Meadow who attended one or both of these gatherings. Here is some of what each of them had to say about the experience:

Luz Ramos, who is working toward her goal of owning her own home: “I am so blessed to have Christine on my side. Every time she has a gathering I make sure to go. Not only do we have a good time, but I also get to meet all the residents that are trying to do what I’m doing. This FSS program is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Roslyn Drummer, who is working on improving her credit, saving money, and being able to buy her own home: “Christine throws these gatherings to further us along. Everyone shares about their experience and talks about the goals they’ve been working on. She knows that some people are shy and maybe don’t want to talk about money, but Christine has a lovely personality that brings out things in people. The program really works. I’ve been in it for three years, and evidently it’s working because the majority of us that are there at these gatherings started out together with the FSS program and we’re trying to complete our goals.”

A young resident joins in on the fun!

A young resident joins in on the fun!

Laconia Fennell, who is working to improve her credit and saving for a house, and who also recently reached her goal of purchasing a car after the transmission went on her old one: “I heard about the gatherings in a meeting with Christine. It was a vision-board workshop. I’m a single mom and I don’t have a babysitter, but I was able to bring my son and he did his vision board while I did mine. It’s good to be around people who are like-minded and want to strive for better and reaching their goals. Putting things on paper, making it visual, really helps get things done.”

Jennifer Alleyne, whose big goal is to buy a house: “Not only do these gatherings bring our community together, but they encouraged all of us even more to make it to the next meeting and our next coaching appointment. Christine’s vision board idea was awesome. I had so many visions on my vision board that I had to get another board. I couldn’t finish everything in one session! Now it’s something I can look at and look forward to on a daily basis, and work toward to reach them.”

Compass unveils new video to help explain FSS program

HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is a powerful program, but can be difficult to explain. An interdepartmental team at Compass recently worked with a design studio to develop a short video to better explain to prospective Compass FSS clients and other stakeholders how the program works. The video is also available free to members of Compass FSS Link, our new online learning platform for FSS practitioners. Check out these versions in both English and Spanish:

Compass Staff Win AFCPE Outstanding Practitioner's Forum Award


Last month, Lucia Reed, Compass’ Financial Services Manager and Program Manager, and George Reuter, Compass’ Director of Learning and Knowledge Management, were recognized with the award for “Outstanding Symposium Practitioners’ Forum Award” as part of the Association of Financial Counseling & Planning Education® (AFCPE®) annual national symposium, held in Norfolk, Virginia. Lucia and George had the opportunity to present during the symposium on Compass’ financial coaching and asset building model for the Family Self-Sufficiency program.

Here’s what Lucia had to say about the experience: “We were excited to be able to share what we’ve learned about running our model for the FSS program with folks in the AFCPE community who may not be aware of it. A lot of our coaching staff have the AFC certification, so it meant a lot to be involved with AFCPE in this way.”

Read more about the award here:


Toinette Rivas: Advisory Board Profile

Toinette Rivas is a founding member of Compass’ Advisory Board. She currently works in institutional equity sales at Bernstein, following several years in research and sales at Credit Suisse. Toinette is a native of Miami, Florida and a graduate of Colby College. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her family.

We recently sat down with Toinette to learn more about what drew her to get involved with Compass and what she wants others to know about the organization.

Compass: You’ve been involved with Compass in several different capacities for more than six years. What was it that initially attracted you to the organization?

Toinette: I first learned about Compass through a friend who was on the Board. I’m a big believer in nonprofits that focus on giving people the tools they need to succeed. Also, I grew up in Miami with a mother who is a social worker for the elderly. I’ve seen how much time she spends with her clients on finances and what they can afford. Through my mom’s work I have seen the gap that exists for people in terms of having the financial information they need to move forward. Solving this gap is at the heart of Compass’ mission.

I also really connect to Compass because of its focus on serving women and the Hispanic community. My grandparents came to this country from Cuba, and were able to get the tools and help they needed to succeed. Today in Massachusetts, that’s not the case for a lot of others, and I feel like Compass is helping to change that.

Compass: Can you tell us a little bit about the different ways you’ve supported Compass over the years?

Toinette: I’ve always been involved with the Annual Breakfast Benefit – inviting people in my network to attend, and giving Compass a chance to share its work with more people. Over the last couple years, I’ve been involved with the Advisory Board and the Board Program Committee. That’s given me the chance to really understand the work Compass does and its impact, such as the recent study by Abt Associates on the Compass model, or the opt-out pilot in Cambridge.

Compass: You mentioned having done a lot of work to introduce other people you know to Compass. What do you usually tell people about Compass to get them interested?

Toinette: It’s an easy story to sell. Everyone has their own personal experience of not understanding a credit card statement or mortgage statement and so on. And there’s the recognition that all of us have gotten help to get to where we are, so it’s important for us to provide that same support to others. I talk about how the program is really focused on supporting people and giving them the tools to reach their own goals. I also talk about the American Dream – Compass is helping people to build savings, to create a better life for themselves and their families.

Compass: Do you have any favorite memories from your involvement with Compass?

Toinette: My favorite part has been seeing Compass grow. When I met the Founder, Sherry, for coffee six years ago, Compass didn’t even have its own office in Boston. It’s incredible to have watched the organization grow from Cambridge and Lynn to across New England and the nation. The model is so scalable and there is truly such a big opportunity for Compass to change so many peoples’ lives. I also love seeing the individual client’s stories – Rosa’s video is my favorite.

Compass: Do you have any big goals or ideas that you'd like to bring to your work with Compass in the future?

Toinette: I know Compass is really focused on serving families, but I feel like there’s an opportunity to help more young people figure out a financial road map. Some of the basic financial education that Compass provides can help young people, too. My sister is a volunteer with a mentoring program and I was able to connect her mentee with a coach at Compass for some advice. It was great to see how that kind of connection was such a help to her, too.

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.

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.

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.

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.


National Network Annual Convening 2017

On November 14th-15th, we hosted an Annual Convening of partners in our National Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Network. This event was an opportunity to gather all of our current Network partners, plus Compass staff, for two days of learning, networking, and planning for our upcoming year of work together. Partners joined us from all over the country, including: Chicago, IL; Independence, MO; Portland, ME; Jackson, MS; and elsewhere. The two days were filled with energy, excitement, and a powerful sense of community and partnership. We are grateful to have such mission aligned national partners and look forward to the year ahead. We hope you enjoy these photographs from the convening. 

Brown Advisory's Boston Innovates Series - The Future of the American Dream: Confronting the Wealth Divide

Thanks to our friends in Brown Advisory's Boston office for convening a roundtable discussion last night on “The Future of the American Dream: Confronting the Wealth Divide” as part of their Boston Innovates Series. The event featured Thomas Shapiro, author of "Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future,” and Sherry Riva, Compass’s Founder and Executive Director. We thoroughly enjoyed this timely dialogue.

Rigorous, independent study confirms impact of Compass FSS program on family economic security

Abt Associates released today the results of their rigorous evaluation of Compass Working Capital’s model for the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. The report points to Compass’s model as a promising approach for helping participants in federal rental assistance programs to increase earnings, build assets and pay down debt.

This study joins a small number of rigorous evaluations of the FSS program that have been conducted to date. It is the first study to examine credit and debt outcomes for FSS program participants, which are two key indicators of household financial security. Abt Associates followed rental assistance recipients in FSS programs offered by Compass in partnership with local housing authorities in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After an average of 40 months in the program, participants in the Compass FSS program earned more and received less welfare payments than their matched peers. They also achieved positive credit and debt outcomes that exceeded benchmarks. Specific findings include:

  • Increased Earnings: Participation in the Compass FSS program was associated with an average gain in annual earnings of $6,305

  • Reduced Debt: Compass FSS participants experienced an average decrease in total derogatory debt of $764 and an average decrease in credit card debt of $655

  • Stronger Credit: The average credit score rose by 23 points, among those Compass FSS participants who entered the program with a score. The share of participants with a prime credit score rose by 14 percentage points.

  • Reduced Welfare income: Participation in Compass FSS was associated with a decline of $496 in annual welfare payments

FSS is a 25-year old U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program designed to help recipients of federal rental assistance make progress toward economic security. The evaluation confirms that well-run, voluntary FSS programs can support families with low incomes to increase their earnings and become more financially secure. These results also add further weight to calls to streamline and improve the FSS program - a chief aim of the bipartisan legislation recently introduced by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Compass partners with public housing authorities, nonprofit housing organizations, and private housing owners to administer an innovative asset building approach to FSS. Like traditional FSS programs, Compass FSS provides participants with an escrow account that increases in value as participants’ earnings and rent contributions increase. In addition, Compass FSS offers client-driven financial coaching to help participants build their financial capability and savings, pay down high-interest debt, make progress in achieving their employment goals and improve their credit scores and budgeting. Compass now operates this FSS model at ten sites in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The organization is also supporting local partners across the country to integrate core aspects of the Compass FSS model into their local FSS programs, through a national training and technical assistance network.

Click here to learn more about the study at Abt Associates’s website.

A letter from Compass's Executive Director on the launch of our National FSS Network

On Monday, September 19, 2016 Compass officially launched our National FSS Network, which will provide training and technical assistance to implementing partners across the country. As part of the launch, these founding partners gathered for three days of training to learn more about how to integrate aspects of Compass's asset building model for the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program into their own local FSS programs.

In celebration of this exciting new venture for Compass, our Founder and Executive Director, Sherry Riva, composed a letter detailing the history of this effort and our vision for this network. Click here to read the letter in full.