By: Inka Bajandas
June 17, 2010
Even if it meant selling off the antiques she'd collected for years, Trish Hall did everything she could to gather up the $167 she needed each month for a whole year.
The money wasn't being set aside for bills. Although she might have desperately wanted to spend it, the Myrtle Creek resident had a goal and she was going to stick with it.
It didn't matter that at times she had no income, a result of being laid off from her job and being in between unemployment benefits. Hall had committed to putting aside enough money into a savings account to accumulate $2,000 over the course of a year.
This wasn't an ordinary savings account or certificate of deposit, however. It was an Umpqua Community Development Corp. Dream$avers account with astronomically beneficial interest. After a year, Hall's $2,000 would, as if by magic, turn into $8,000.
That's why even during the roughest of times, while being unemployed for two whole years and sending off more than 100 resumes to no avail, Hall made an effort to save with help from the UCDC savings program.
"There were times of struggle, but it was worth it," she said.
After her year was up, Hall decided to use her money to create her own job. She bought a playground structure, a Nintendo Wii and educational toys, among other purchases, to start a child care business from her home about a year ago.
"All I can do from here is get bigger with my day care," she said. "It's wonderful. I feel like UCDC saved my life because now I don't ever have to be unemployed in my life."
Since UCDC started operating the matched-funds savings program in Douglas County and 11 other Oregon counties in 2003, Hall has joined the 99 local Dream$avers graduates, said Rebekah Barger, individual development account program manager with UCDC.
The organization is accepting new applications for those interested in participating in the program, she said.
To join, participants must qualify as low-income and be willing to spend their savings on a predetermined goal, she said. That could include buying a home, financing home repairs and paying for college or job training. Participants can also spend their savings on starting up a new business or purchasing new equipment for an existing business to remain competitive.
They then have up to three years to save a maximum of $2,000, making a deposit every month. Once they've completed their savings goal, Barger said, a grant through the statewide nonprofit organization Neighborhood Partnership matches every dollar they save with $3. This means $2,000 in savings made by a Dream$avers participant will be matched with a $6,000 grant.
"It's too good to be true, but it's very much true," Barger said. "Three hundred percent interest on their money with very little strings attached."
The program is all about teaching the value of saving to low-income people, she said. Participants attend financial planning classes and get individualized help to reach their goal, such as financial advice on how to purchase a home. If they want to start a business they'll need to come up with a business plan, Barger said.
"We help them develop the tools that they need be able to make that purchase successfully," she said.
Hall joins other graduates of the program who say participating in the program instilled the habit of stashing away a little money every month.
"In the past I never did bother with a savings account," she said. "I have learned to juggle. It feels good knowing that (my savings) was there if I have an emergency."
Ryan Charest, who used his savings to put a down on payment on a limousine and start a part-time limo service about a year ago, said he learned a lot. The Roseburg resident wanted to start up a limo service for some time, but his terrible credit and lack of savings got in the way. Dream$avers changed all that by teaching him how to budget and clean up his credit, which went up 200 points while he was enrolled in the program for a year and about another 100 since he graduated. He said he can't see why anyone wouldn't want to sign up.
"They taught you how to survive and put away a little money into the bank each month," Charest said.
Bad credit and debt had also been hindering the dream Rosa Mohlsick and her husband shared of purchasing a home for themselves and their three young children. They couldn't even get a loan. Through an additional grant, Mohlsick's husband was able to walk out with $10,000 from his Dream$avers account for a down payment on a four-bedroom home in Roseburg and UCDC walked them through the home-buying process, she said.
She had her own account and used the savings to go towards earning a business degree. It was hard to save the money each month, but eventually it became a habit they've kept, she said. Nowadays, not only are Mohlsick and her husband off public assistance, getting out of debt and raising their credit score, they're also committed to setting aside at least $3,000 in savings for emergencies only.
"It changed our whole life program of living from paycheck to paycheck," she said. "There's a lot more peace of mind than we had before."
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.