“Helping our clients build a solid credit history is quite rewarding because this will lead to them having access to safe products that will allow them reach their financial goals.”
-Stacey Woods, Financial Coach, North Lawndale Employment Network
Employment & Credit Building to Rejuvenate a Community
The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing the North Lawndale community with innovative credit, asset, and employment building initiatives. NLEN believes that neighborhood –focused employment initiatives are fundamental to improving the quality of life for neighborhood residents and can influence policy by serving as a model for change. As a Center for Working Families (CWF) site NLEN pairs workforce development with financial coaching and bundled services. Clients receive free credit reports, personalized budgeting advice, assistance enrolling in public aid programs, help with establishing or rebuilding credit history, and access to credit-building products like a secured credit card and the Twin Accounts program. Twin Accounts is an innovative credit building loan that functions as a matched savings program. After one year of monthly payments, clients have savings to invest in their future. Since 2009, NLEN has helped more than 500 clients improve their credit scores.
A Unique Approach: Pairing Employment & Financial Education
Through Sweet Beginnings, a wholly owned subsidiary of the network, NLEN offers full-time transitional jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals and others with significant barriers to employment in a green industry—the production and sales of all-natural skin care products featuring its own urban honey. NLEN sees Sweet Beginnings as a high quality, sustainable social enterprise that offers a unique product and a unique solution to overcrowded prisons. As the average recidivism rate is 65% nationally and 55% in Illinois, Sweet Beginnings’ recidivism rate of below 4% for former employees is evidence of something truly special. NLEN recognizes that financial insecurity is a driving force in recidivism, which is why NLEN integrates long-term financial counseling into Sweet beginnings and other existing services.
A Story of Impact
Eugene Reese is a 38 year old African American who came to NLEN to become self-sufficient after spending time in prison. He enrolled and graduated from NLEN’s U-Turn Permitted program, which helps ex-felons re-enter the workforce. A creative man in general, Eugene hopes to turn his passion of making beautiful hard candy sculpted flowers into a business where he can sell them to wedding planners. When he first came to his financial coach at NLEN, he had a very thin credit score file. Eugene learned that in order to obtain the small business loan that could get his hard candy flowers business off the ground, he would first need a good credit score. Eugene worked with his financial coach to create a budget and applied for the Twin Account program to build his credit and save for his business. After 6 months of paying the Twin Account program on time, his credit score had risen high enough to successfully obtain a retail credit card. From his financial education Eugene knew that by having a mixture of credit lines his score would raise even more. He hopes to soon obtain a small business loan to get his hard candy flower business off the ground.
The Future of North Lawndale
NLEN’s vision is to see to the North Lawndale unemployment rate equal that of the city average-currently 9%. Thus, NLEN is laboring to help build a world in which people facing significant barriers to employment (including former offenders) are given a fair and just second chance to achieve self-sufficiency through gainful employment. Through the support of donors, NLEN continues to expand its services, reach, and positive impact in the North Lawndale community, by changing individual lives and improving the community’s quality of life, one person at a time, and one job at a time.