Ronna, Aviva, and Matthew, thank you for joining me. As I mentioned in the intro to this post, each of your organizations is slightly different than the next. Can you each describe a typical client/recipient of your respective organizations?
Hebrew Free Loan serves such a variety of folks that it's hard to profile a "typical" borrower. (Also, we are nonsectarian, so you do not need to be Jewish to get a loan from us!) Most often we are helping an individual or couple on relatively steady financial ground (an income of $115,000 or less), living paycheck to paycheck like most of us, who gets hit with a major expense -- replacing a roof, buying a new car, facing a huge tuition bill. Unless you have a family member who can help or you can afford to pay the interest from a bank, how do you find money to pay for these things? That's where HFL comes in. Some of our borrowers say it best themselves: https://www.youtube.com/wat...
SOS Pittsburgh is a program of last resort for people in crisis. We see a large variety of needs with the top three being Housing,
Utilities and Transportation. Our program focuses on clients who have experienced a one-time crisis that will plunge them into poverty if not assisted with case management and financial assistance. It is hard to list a typical case but I will share three cases that embody our program.
1. A client lost all of their teeth and could not afford to purchase dentures. With the lack of teeth, the client could not eat properly and thus did not have the strength to remain working.
SOS Pittsburgh assisted this client with all fees associated with receiving dentures.
2. A client in an abusive relationship that had a lapsed nursing license. SOS Pittsburgh assisted the client to renew their nursing license and become self-sufficient with a secure job. This helped the client leave their dangerous environment and become independent.
3. A client with a secure job experienced a health crisis that kept them from working their full time job for a month. The client became behind on rent and utilities. The client's health improved but they could not pay prior bills with their minimum wage job. SOS Pittsburgh assisted the client with these bills and the client became self-sufficient going forward.
I wanted to highlight something Aviva stated above.
"Clients living paycheck to paycheck".
This is a real issue and a recent poll found that 76% of families in the US live paycheck to paycheck with little savings.
Without any savings, families cannot absorb a crisis that can cause additional expenses. Hospitalization, new non-covered medications, downsizing and loss of benefits can really throw a family off track and plunge them into poverty.
It doesn't take more than a quick perusal of your websites to see that your work is truly helping people in dire straits. But folks in need have to know about these services and feel comfortable coming forward to ask for help. How can we, as a community, create an environment where people feel that comfort to approach your organizations?
The Jewish Assistance Fund serves Jewish clients who face a significant financial crisis. After scheduling an appointment our Trustees make a determination about the amount of money that will be awarded and the check is handed to the client right then and there. The immediacy of the needs can be met on the spot. JAF hopes it can save a family or individual on the brink of a disaster that can easily spiral out of control.
The client appeals to us and we are able to issue a check to save them from a utility cut off, a pending eviction, a bill collection issue for medical expenses or other expenses. Some clients request money to pay for a major car repair that is necessary because the car allows them to maintain their job. Or they might need money for the replacement of a water heater or other very necessary purchase.
I think it is extremely important that referral sources are well educated on our services so they may give clients the clearest and newest information about our services.
Therefore it is often that the process begins with organizations that refer clients to us.
We provide continuous outreach to our referral agencies and I am always happy to meet with any agency that would like to learn more or has a change in staff and could use a refresher presentation on our program.
Raimy, your question is an important one because often there is a stigma associated with asking for help. But as Matthew pointed out, most people today do not have room in their budgets for significant -- or unexpected -- expenses. And at HFL, we don't consider our borrowers as needy or impoverished. We think of our borrowers as people just like us who are facing a big cost that they need to pay off over time. We respect that our applicants are choosing an interest-free loan in order to remain financially independent while accomplishing their goals. (Why loans? See: https://www.youtube.com/wat...) What makes HFL somewhat different from JAF and SOS Pittsburgh is that we are able to loan up to $10,000, and loans are offered for many reasons that are not related to a person being "in crisis": tuition, debt consolidation, home improvement, weddings, car purchase or repair, bar/bat mitzvahs, adoption or fertility treatment, and medical and dental bills, just to name a few. Those are expenses we all will face at some point. HFL's process is quick and confidential. We accept applicants throughout Allegheny County, and in our conversations with everyone -- from potential borrowers to community partners -- we try to underscore our hope that people will feel comfortable using us as a financial resource, not as a social service agency.
With regard to Aviva's response, we are somewhat of a "social service" agency in that we get many of our referrals from those sources. Our clients are not at all able to pay back a loan and need an outright award of money. But, unlike SOS, we do not do any direct social service work with our clients but might refer them to such resources. Also unlike Hebrew Free Loan, our clients are often needy and/or impoverished and very much struggle to get by.
Let me be clarify that HFL will happily loan to individuals in a crisis (or to help with a crisis), but all of our borrowers must have the capacity to repay the loan. That's how we've been able to exist for almost 130 years (https://www.youtube.com/wat...): We're a "green" organization in that we recycle money. As one borrower pays back, we use that money again to fund the next loan.
How can we all promote these services? Awareness of them is the first step of course. HFL is doing a lot of outreach to make sure more people know about us. As community members, we do need to make a point of sharing with our friends and neighbors (and hairdressers and plumbers and coworkers) that these resources exist. When we hear about a hot water tank breaking or someone home from the hospital with medical bills, a couple who wants to adopt or a family sending a child off to college, we all can direct them to these resources. (At HFL, borrowers are also required to have a cosigner who owns property in Allegheny County, so community members can fill that role for one another as well.) We are so lucky that each of these three programs exist in Pittsburgh, and it's in everyone's best interest to promote them.
As both Matt and Aviva have stated, the referral sources must know about us and must understand our respective missions. And, it is important to "talk it up" within the larger community. We who are involved with the Jewish Assistance Fund take every opportunity to spread the word about the work that we do.
How can our community members promote these financial services to their neighbors and friends?
First, we need to know who may need help financially. Unfortunately some families may not feel comfortable sharing their struggles with friends and family.
Invite them over for dinner. Perhaps some private face time may give them the security they need to ask for help.
Urge them to speak to their Rabbi. We receive many referrals from rabbis all over the county.
As you are aware, the Scorecard is largely concerned with measuring progress. So beyond clients served and dollars distributed, how do you measure your success? Is there a way for you to determine if you're having a "successful" year?
Oh Raimy, that is a tough question. Of course, we can track how many family units we helped each year ( over 300) and how many dollars we disbursed and how much money we raised. But, our success is more about "feelings" than anything else. Our Trustees love to serve and love to feel that they have helped. They have real hands on experience with meeting our clients face to face, hearing their story and responding with help on the spot. We also get a certain number of thank you notes that warm all of our hearts. Trustees and clients share tears and hugs. I honestly believe that we meet our mission to the Jewish world by using the values of our Jewish heritage to help heal the world. Our success can be quantified but that which we can not quantify is probably our more significant success.
Amen! I can't say it better than Ronna.
Fantastic. I love the thought of hugs as a quantifiable metric.
Do you feel like the need is growing within the community? Have you seen a trend one way or another?
There is no doubt at all that the need increases every single year. We get more applicants and their dollar amount needs have increased. That often reflects increased costs for all goods and services, not the least of which is medication and health care costs.
As we wrap up this conversation, I can share that Hebrew Free Loan currently has the resources to open our doors to more borrowers. Due to the generosity of our community's donors who believe so wholeheartedly in our mission, we are ready to welcome applicants who could benefit from interest-free money. Our online application is set to go live within the next week or two! Check www.hflapgh.org to apply online or call me or Ellen Clancy any time at 412-422-8868. We want to make the process as quick and easy as we possibly can.
Jewish Assistance Fund is eternally grateful to all of our donors who give us the funds to distribute. We value the trust that our donors place in our hands to make a difference in the lives of Jewish people in the Greater Pittsburgh community.
What a note to end on. These organizations WANT to help more people; we just have to continuously remind our friends and family that these services exist.
Thank you Matthew, Aviva, and Ronna for your time and expertise. And for running these organizations that truly offer a helping hand in times of need.