SF non-profit EARN marks 10th anniversary


A San Francisco non-profit group is marking its 10th anniversary helping minimum wage workers save money and achieve their career goals. It's called EARN and its mission is to provide dignity on the road to the American dream.

"This is what I have. This is where it has to go, and then kind of make choices accordingly," said Lisa Ruskin, an EARN financial services associate, to her class.

Taking a personal finance class can make managing money seem simple. However, in a region where many people like to keep fit, it's not as easy to be fiscally fit.

"For a long time, I just thought I didn't have enough money. But I really learned how to reallocate the resources that I had towards what was most important to me at that time," said Dametra Williams, an EARN saver.

Williams is one of nearly 4,000 persons who have turned to an organization called EARN to attend workshops, like personal finance, and to get on the path to purposeful saving.

"It is inherently optimistic, it is future oriented, and it is a vehicle for thinking about what you're going to do, and it gives life to those dreams with resources," said EARN president and CEO Ben Mangan.

EARN's savers have socked away over $5 million over the past 10 years, $115 a month is typical. For every dollar saved, EARN matches that with $2.

Dee Dee Brooks used her savings toward a college education. That enabled her to launch a new career as a clinical research associate. She monitors human drug trials for regulatory compliance. EARN, in turn, monitors her progress.

"'Dee Dee, how are you doing? How's your business coming along? Where are you at now? Where do you see yourself?' So I think that continuous conversation, face-to-face, back-and-forth, helped me move along," said Brooks.

Williams was homeless a few years ago. With EARN's help, she now runs her own in-home health care service.

"I currently have a staff team of 15, a good portion of which, about 10 percent, is my family. So we're sort of a family-run small business now and I'm really proud of that," said Williams.

EARN participants must use their savings for education, to start a business, or to buy a home. Achieving their goals can create a social and economic ripple effect.

"You hear them talk about people they've hired in their small businesses. You hear them talk about the things they went on to do once they got their degree. Paying more taxes, buying a home," said Mangan.

Mangan says the two recessions since EARN started a decade ago didn't stifle the American dream.

"They had not lost their vision to create a better life for themselves and for the kids, and that's why they came to EARN," said Mangan.

In celebrating its 10th anniversary, EARN says it has helped countless families to withstand two economic downturns and hopes that it will help them withstand whatever economic winds blow in the future.

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