From poverty to prosperity for SparkPoint clients


Twenty-eight-year-old Shatrisse Long is a single mother of three who is now enrolled in the culinary program at Laney College in Oakland as part of a major change in her life.

"I've been out of work, I haven't had a car," said Long. "I had learning disabilities in school."

Long was laid off from her cashier's job, but found support to look for a different career, thanks to SparkPoint, a new free program sponsored by United Way of the Bay Area.

SparkPoint wraps a big blanket of services around its clients, not just for the basic needs, but also for their clients' long-term success.

"SparkPoint really is a one-stop help center for people who are really trying to create financial stability for their families," said United Way CEO Anne Wilson. "We need to help people repair their credit, build assets, strengthen their income."

Asked why she didn't go back to school, Long said, "I was scared to fail. I did not want to fail, but since I been back to school, and I'm passing with Bs, it's boosting up my confidence."

At the SparkPoint Oakland Center, Long meets with her coach and counselor Dawn Love on a regular basis.

Love encouraged Long to go back to school and helped her get financial aid. Love has her own success story.

"I was a former welfare mom with one child," she said. "I went back to school and I got my associates degree in Human Services in May of 2009."

Love will monitor Long's progress and other SparkPoint members over a long period of time in whatever career they choose to pursue. That is a key factor to ensure success.

"We know change takes time, so generally our commitment is that we will be working with people for an average of two to three years," said SparkPoint coordinator Sharon Robinson. "It is about thriving. It is really about having quality of life and that's what we are really trying to help people to really grow and prosper."

Wilson says SparkPoint adds significant support to the highly successful 2-1-1 call lines around the bay. They have access to interpreters for 150 different languages.

"In November, I believe we took over 6,000 calls," said 2-1-1 call specialist Daphne.

"What we've seen in the last year is a tremendous increase in calls for basic needs," said Wilson.

"Everyone of all ages calls," said Daphne. "I've actually taken calls from kids calling us, looking for the school lunch program because they're hungry."

Helping people move out of poverty and into prosperity is the goal offered by 2-1-1 and SparkPoint. It will eventually expand from Oakland and American Canyon in Napa County to San Francisco, Marin, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Solano counties.

"If people are looking for a job or looking to go back to school or anything like that, this is a great place for them to start," said Long.

The Laney College culinary program fast-tracks motivated students like Long into jobs at a fraction of the cost of a private college.

"It's a great deal," said Laney College bakery chef Lorrian Raji. "We've got units that are all transferable. She could move on to a business degree later and take her many units with her."

Thanks to the caring people at SparkPoint, Long sees a much brighter future for herself and her children.

"I'll be able to do more for them, to provide for them," said Long. "I could give them what I always wanted. Show them that I could do it. I might have started late in life, but I'm doing it."

Long is already changing a generation. Her daughters told their mom they all want to go to college now.

Did you know?

  • A $20 donation to United Way feeds a family of three for two weeks and provides a Fisher Price toy for a needy child this holiday season.

  • A $50 United Way gift pays for a health check-up for a child from a low-income family.

  • A $250 donation gives a homeless youth a warm, safe place to sleep for two weeks.

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