West Valley Community Services receives money for its Financial Empowerment Program

By Kristi Myllenbeck | 


This article was originally published in The Mercury News.

Cupertino-based West Valley Community Services’ mission is to help others. But the nonprofit organization can occasionally use a helping hand itself.

The organization received a check for $12,500 from Bank of America for its Financial Empowerment Program at a ceremony on Thursday.

The year-long program is open to all West Valley Community Services clients and helps give individuals and families living well below the poverty line a fighting chance in an expensive region.

“The focus of the program is on behavior change–how to teach our clients who may have never before been exposed to personal financial management how to make better use of the money that they have, make smarter choices related to how they spend the money they have and, over time, hopefully parlay what they have into more resources in the future,” said Josh Selo, executive director of West Valley Community Services.

Selo said the program, which usually has about 20 participants every year, is marked by financial incentives for reaching certain milestones.

“If they open up a bank account, there’s a financial incentive,” he said. “If they improve their credit score by some points, it’s a financial incentive. Those incentives can be used to either open up a bank account and develop a nest of assets that they can rely on in the future or to pay down any high-interest debt they have that really is causing a lot of household stress.”

Selo said the incentives are paid out quarterly, and if a client successfully reaches all incentivized milestones, they can earn up to $2,000.

Clients are also assigned a mentor to guide them through the activities and help tailor their financial goals.

“The goal is to help them finish all 12 months,” Selo said. “At the end, they come out with a greater understanding of how to make smarter financial choices for their household.”

Josh Russell, Vice president and Silicon Valley market manager with Bank of America, presented the check to Selo and West Valley Community Services, and also brought along 20 volunteers to put in some work at the organization.

“Bank of America is very focused on providing funding and support to organizations that are helping in terms of economic mobility for individuals and families, especially those in need,” he said. “West Valley Community Services is one that we feel great about our money, knowing it’s going to go to the right places and serve the right people.”

Russell said some Bank of America employees help mentor clients through the program.

“The community we live in is so unique in that it’s got the highs and the lows,” he said. “And there are so many people that live here that are really having a hard time making it; the 6,500 homeless people in Santa Clara County every night and one in three that are food insecure. The issues are prevalent.”

This is the second year that Bank of America has sponsored the program.

Selo said the $12,500 will go directly toward training and financial incentives for clients participating in the program.


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