By: Stefanie Knowlton
April 5, 2014
It sounded too good to be true, but Salem homeowners Elizabeth and Brandon Lillie said Opportunity Works delivered on its promise.
The program teaches residents how to manage money and offers a grant program that matches their savings three to one to buy a home. The family of six struggled to set aside enough money until they signed up for the program last year.
This winter they used a $4,000 down payment - $1,000 in savings and $3,000 in grant money - to buy their first home.
"It's wonderful," Elizabeth Lillie said about the 1920s house that reminds her of her grandmother's.
Now, Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation, the nonprofit that runs Opportunity Works, is launching savings programs for college and adaptive equipment for work.
Both offer the three-to-one return for residents who fall below income requirements. It's part of a statewide effort to help residents better afford homes, college education and work opportunities through state, local and private funding.
The first step is to take the nonprofit's eight-week financial foundations class, which is open to everyone.
"I think there are very few people who wouldn't benefit from the financial coaching," said Emily Reiman, Opportunity Works manager with NEDCO.
Next, grant hopefuls have to complete an eight-week savings class before they apply for the Individual Development Account with matching funds. The classes cost $65 each. When the nonprofit offered them for free, fewer people attended.
"We have more buy in if people have more skin in the game," Reiman said.
She has seen remarkable financial changes as people go through the classes. Residents go from living in debt and struggling to make ends meet to moving toward financial stability.
"The emotional transformation that happens with that is amazing," she said.
Elizabeth Lillie now encourages her friends and family to check out the program. She's also considering the college savings program for her 16-year-old.
"What better deal can you get?" she asked. "You put in $1,000 and they give you $3,000."