Centers for Strong Families

United Way’s Center for Strong Families Celebrates
Benchmark in Helping 725 Working Families

Financial and Employment Coaching Services Expand to Lakewood,  Bethel and Parkland Neighborhoods

United Way of Pierce County recently announced that its Center for Strong Families reached a new benchmark in Pierce County. Since its inception in July 2016, 725 individuals enrolled in this integrated service delivery model. That is, the seamless delivery of services including one-on-one financial coaching, direct service programs, case management, workshops and enrollment in income supports to increase financial stability among lower-income, working families.

Bundled services is the combining of services from two or three core areas to help working families achieve economic advancement. These core areas may include employment and education services, income and work supports, financial education, and asset building services. In addition to bundling, many services are undertaken sequentially; for example, a client will complete job training, enroll in public benefits, and subsequently attain stable employment. Following employment, the client will begin to address debt or credit issues. Once these issues are resolved, the client may identify and begin to work toward more long-term financial goals.


A Successful Formula: Learn, Earn, Keep & Grow

To date: 294 individuals received financial coaching, 349 received employment coaching and 317 accessed income support counseling. In 2017 alone, 185 people were enrolled in education or training programs 155 people obtained employment. The average starting way is $14.47 and on average, increasing their monthly income by $807. The average net worth increased to $12,496 which also includes debt reduction.

This year, we are already improving. The average wage is now $16.74 with many people advancing into even higher wage career opportunities like: construction, finance, healthcare, and transportation with starting wages above $20/hr.  

United Way is creating a strong network of organizations working together to implement proven strategies and best practices that respond to the problem of persistent poverty, financial instability, and low-wage stagnation among families.

“We are investing in centers throughout Pierce County, so clients who enroll get access to both high-quality, one-on-one financial coaching and employment services to help them reach their goals,” said Korbett Mosesly, Director of Family Stability Initiatives at United Way. “The Center for Strong Families helps people in a way that encourages a long-term commitment to increasing income, decreasing expenses, building credit and acquiring assets.”


The Center for Strong Families in Action

Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO, United Way of Pierce County, explains that a job is not enough. That’s the reality facing the tens of thousands of unemployed neighborhood residents and low-wage workers who visit their local community-based organizations to seek help with employment, emergency food and utility assistance to name just a few of the issues families and individuals address daily.

Even among those who are employed, many families struggle with monthly expenses that exceed their income an uphill financial battle that, without room to build a savings cushion, grows more unsustainable if a car breaks down, a family member become ill, or an employer cuts even a few weeks’ hours from full-time to part-time.

Low-income families who lack emergency savings or a favorable credit score often turn to the few alternative options that are available to them and easily accessible in their neighborhoods: payday lenders, check-cashing services, high-interest auto lots and rent-to-own stores. In many communities, utilities and cell phone providers also require up-front deposits, in the absence of good credit, to establish service. These deposits, fees, and high interest charges of alternative financial providers take a significant bite out of monthly cash flow.

“We are thrilled by the positive momentum forward for so many individuals and families, notes Ponepinto. “This human-centered design approach starts and ends with the client. Whatever barriers they may be facing are addressed. There is no one-size fits all approach.”

Three years ago, “Joe” was homeless. Over the past year, one on one coaching services helped him to increase his income by $1400 a month; his credit score went up 50 points, he moved into more affordable housing, is able to utilize monthly budget, established $2000 in savings and eliminated $10,000 in debt. He is looking to purchase a house by 2019. 

A single mom with three children, “Angela,” has been working with her coach since October with her sights set on purchasing a home through Habitat for Humanity. She increased her credit score by 40 points and qualifies now for a mortgage; she paid off $1,006 in credit card debt and is getting close to having her earnest money saved up.

“Suelee” graduated from a Computer Skills training program at Goodwill.  Prior to attending the program, she had been out of work for 15 + years because of a disability. Although she has been on Social Security, she still was adamant about getting back in the workforce.  Having a coach in her corner to help with her resume, presentation and interview skills, SueLee recently accepted a position with a local bank making $12.00 to start.  After 90 days, her income will increase to $17.50 hour.  She continues to meet with a Financial Coach to work on her credit report and paying down debt.

The Center for Strong Families focuses on improving the financial bottom line for low- to moderate-income families and helping people in a way that encourages a long-term commitment to increasing income, decreasing expenses, building credit and acquiring assets.

“We don't just want families to get on their feet. We want them to stay on their feet. That means not just getting them a job to increase their income but helping them decrease their debt and improve their credit. It means connecting them to a job training opportunity and helping them access transportation, work clothes, and tutoring to be successful in that training. It is about forming a long-term relationship that helps them achieve their goals,” adds Ponepinto.


Pierce County Key Partnerships

After partnering with Sound Outreach and Goodwill to launch services in the Hilltop and Downtown Tacoma, United Way has now launched the services at five locations with a sixth proposed this summer.

  • Downtown Tacoma - Tacoma Goodwill
  • Hilltop - Sound Outreach 
  • Bethel - Bethel School District/Sound Outreach
  • Lakewood - Clover Park Technical College
  • Spanaway - Pierce County Housing Authority

The Center for Strong Families sites join a growing national network that includes nearly 90 Financial Opportunity Centers across the country. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is experienced with scaling and adds to a growing body of knowledge about this important process, from research and development to full rollout and the practices and policies needed at the program, organizational and industry levels.

Funders who joined this effort so far include: City of Tacoma, WSECU, MultiCare Health, CHI Franciscan Health, Commencement Bank, LISC, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, KeyBank, Pierce County, State Farm, Sequoia Foundation, Workforce Central and the Bamford Foundation.

Ponepinto adds,” All children deserve to grow-up in a stable home with the resources they need to thrive. Together, we want to ensure that every family has that opportunity to live a quality-life in our community. A sign of a thriving community is that residents feel confident that their lives will improve, their incomes rise, and their job prospects widen while they are living there.”

This strategic initiative to help reduce poverty ill continue to grow as the organization implements the model in neighborhoods through Pierce County. Over the next five years; the Center for Strong Families Initiative plans to serve 2,500 families to help them become financially stable.

For individuals wishing to get connected to a coach today, they may call 2-1-1 to find a Center for Strong Families nearby or visit To learn about how you can support this initiative, contact Corey Mosesly, Director, Family Stability Initiatives, Community Impact & Engagement Department.