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“I grew up in Cambridge in the projects and I never really saw myself having a future or a home of my own,” says Irene, a participant in the Compass FSS program operated in partnership with Cambridge Public Housing. But today, after two years in the Compass program, Irene has an entirely different perspective.

Before Compass, Irene had spent years looking for someone who could help her improve and manage her finances. She came across several companies that claimed they could help her do things like fix her credit, but they all wanted to charge a fee that was simply too high for her. What’s more, she felt like these companies were unreliable and untrustworthy.

When Irene learned about Compass through a family friend, she says she was relieved to have found a program that she felt like she could trust. She was eager to get her finances in order because she had a lot of goals that she was intent on achieving. Her two most important goals were to fix her credit and begin saving to eventually buy herself a home.

Irene has worked at a major health insurance company on and off for nearly 20 years. Since joining Compass, she has opened up a 401k with her company and is focused on increasing her contribution from 2% to 4%, to leverage the full match that her company offers. She has also consolidated her student loans and has been paying them, and all of her other bills, on time for over a year. She is also beginning to build her own savings.

In terms of her big goals, Irene can see that she is making steady progress toward being able to buy a home. She envisions being able to buy a home in the next 4-5 years. She is looking forward to, as she describes it, “having the freedom to not report my every move to someone and to having something to leave to my children and grandchildren.” Irene has also made improvements to her credit score. “I pay close attention to my credit now and I used to run from that. It’s made me aware of what America thinks a decent person in society is. You know, if you have bad credit it doesn't matter how good of a person you are,” she laughs. “I don’t have bill collectors calling me anymore and that’s one of the best feelings.” Irene strongly believes that “knowledge is power” and she feels that her Compass coach, Shailean, has shared a wealth of financial knowledge with her. She says that she has learned so much that she often finds herself teaching friends and family members about what she has learned.

The biggest motivator for Irene is her children. Her youngest child, Zavier, is beginning high school in September. She says, “Since the Compass program he is traveling and playing more basketball. There are a lot more opportunities for him. It’s a good feeling to know that if I have to pay something for him, I have the money to do it.”

Irene sums up how her perspective on her finances and her future has changed this way: “I think the biggest thing Compass has done for me was to show me that I can do anything I put my mind to. I appreciate all that Compass has taught me to do for myself. I would recommend this program to everyone.”

Compass programs draw on research demonstrating the impact of savings and asset building on children and families. When we are working with parents, we are also having an impact on their children. For example, research has demonstrated that when a parent establishes a college savings account for a child, that child is more likely to attend and complete school.

For Fatoumata, watching her mother save made her feel supported and encouraged. “I knew it was difficult for her to put away money. I knew it was a strain on her,” Fatoumata remembers. “But I also knew she wanted me to succeed in life.”

At Penn, Fatoumata studies science and is planning for medical school. She is also responsible for managing the finances of two health-focused student organizations on campus and exploring the idea of a future in business.

“Based on my experience, Compass gives you hope for the future,” Fatoumata reflected recently. “Despite my mom’s hardships and giving up money that could be used in other areas of her life, she wanted to do this and she felt like it would pay off. Compass helped her to see that by saving for my brother and me she wasn’t taking away money from herself, she was preparing her family for the future.”


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