OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Sonya Verdine says she faced challenges growing up in Oakland, which led to financial challenges as an adult.
"So, it was hard for me to figure what I needed to do financially, to get my financial issues resolved," she said.
At one point, she was homeless. She is cancer survivor. She struggled with addition. A friend introduced her to Operation Hope, which gave a financial blueprint to turn her life around.
"How to reduce debt in order to secure credit. So, my credit score has gone up 200 (points). I have only been in the program slightly over a year," she said.
Recognized nationally, Operation Hope offers customized programs to teach people about personal finance. And the services are free.
"They work one-on-one with a person, such as myself. We try to provide a budget. We look at their long-term goals and objectives. Short term goals and objectives. And provide a GPS. I call it the role model to success," says Dr. Joaquin Wallace, a Financial Well-Being Coach with Operation Hope.
Since April of last year, Wallace has worked with close to 300 clients. Of them, 45% reduced their debt, 47% increased their savings, while 57% increased their credit score.
And now, it has a permanent office in downtown Oakland located inside Wells Fargo. It's called "Hope Inside."
"You don't have to be a Wells Fargo customer to take advantage of their services. It's really to be a community benefit," says Darlene Goins, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
Wells Fargo Bank launched its banking inclusion initiative more than two years ago. Over ten years, the bank has aimed to help those who are unbanked. Goins says having Operation Hope operate out of its branches is a step towards that.
The FDIC estimates that 4% of Americans are unbanked, meaning they don't have a checking or savings account. Wells Fargo data suggests the numbers are similar in Alameda County. The unbanked are often stuck with high-cost alternatives like check cashing and payday loans. And a disproportionate number are people of color. Operation Hope hopes to level the playing field.
"Financial literacy is something that is overlooked in marginalized communities. Our program focuses on that and provides you the tools to understand how to create a budget, reducing debt and increase your savings," Wallace said.
Even though there is collaboration with Wells Fargo Bank, Operation Hope does not have to use Wells Fargo's financial services or programs with its clients.
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