Lansing's Financial Empowerment Center celebrates milestone

A free, one-on-one professional counseling service offered in partnership with the City of Lansing and Cristo Rey Community Center recently marked four years of providing 10,000 counseling sessions that have helped thousands of people reach their financial goals.
Founded March 12, 2013, the Lansing Financial Empowerment Center has served 3,500 clients who have reduced their debt by more than $6.6 million, and increased their savings by more than $558,000. The Lansing FEC targets low-income individuals and families, but is open to anyone regardless of income level. The center provides four services plans including banking, credit, savings and debt to help participants shape a more financially stable life.
"Cities are better off when residents are financial stable," says Amber Paxton, director of the Lansing FEC. "They pay debts that support city government, they invest, and they may be more inclined to open a business, too."
The Lansing FEC was initially funded through a $1.5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Living Cities' Cities Financial Empowerment Fund. Lansing was one of five cities to create financial empowerment centers, and was among the 2013 cohort of Nashville, Tenn., San Antonio, Texas, Denver, Colo., and Philadelphia, Penn.
Paxton commented that Lansing was a contender among much larger cities primarily because of the strong support received from the local government and city leadership.
"Mayor Benero considers financial empowerment part of his economic development platform," she says. "We also have so many other good solid programs going on in the community that surround financial empowerment, including good housing counseling agencies.  It made sense for us to layer over some of our existing pillars of financial stability for our residents."
Paxton stressed that a key tenant of the Lansing FEC is to integrate programs with existing social services provided through faith-based or government agencies. Counselors coordinate or make referrals within the community, helping individuals and families to achieve the next step of financial stability by reducing debt, decreasing expenses, building emergency savings, repairing credit, or paying off loans and bills.
Looking ahead, Paxton says the program will continue to integrate with programs like Lansing SAVE, the H.O.P.E. Scholarship Program, Lansing Promise, and Capital Area College Access Network, and to provide services that can help young people smoothly transition into adult life and avoid financial pitfalls.
"We're looking to help empower people from Kindergarten through adulthood," says Paxton. "We're one piece in that continuum of support."
The Lansing FEC provides services at the Cristo Rey Community Center at 1717 N. High Street through two full-time counselors and a program manager. The program looks to expand staffing in the next 12 to 18 months, depending on funding. To donate, click here. 
Source: Amber Paxton, Director, Lansing Financial Empowerment Center
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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