Christine Walker came to Washington, D.C. in 2002 from Milwaukee for better professional growth opportunities. Eager to advance her career, she enrolled in public policy courses at George Washington University.
As she accumulated credits toward her degree, unfortunately, she also began accumulating credit card debt.
A lot of it.
Concerned about her financial future, Christine embarked on a journey towards financial literacy. She taught herself everything she could through books. Then she teamed up with Lydia’s House, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, and took classes on how to improve her credit and prepare for responsible home ownership.
Lydia’s House set her on a path towards better financial practices, but as a single mom responsible for her four-year old son, Christine still wasn’t earning enough through her job as an executive assistant to save—the true pathway to economic security.
And that’s where The Women’s Foundation’s Stepping Stones initiative came in.
Stepping Stones brought together Lydia’s House and Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB), providing a grant to CAAB to provide Individual Development Accounts —or IDAs, a special type of savings account—to single mothers in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 earning less than $35,000 who completed financial literacy courses at Lydia’s House.
Fueled by the motivation of knowing that she could quadruple her savings, Christine saved $1,000 in six short months. Having completed the required financial education training and met her savings goal, Christine earned a 3-to-1 match on her account from the IDA program–receiving an additional $3,000 from funds provided by The Women’s Foundation and the D.C. government.
The match, she says, made all the difference.
"The match made it seem like it was worthwhile," Christine says. "When you can only save $25 a month, you feel defeated, that you can’t put a dent in your goals. Your only hope is for a better job, or some other fluke. It’s frustrating. With the IDA account, it seemed almost too good to be true. For me, $4,000 is huge. It means not having to use a credit card for school."
Emily Appel, matched savings program director at CAAB, explains that motivation is a significant part of the journey towards saving. “Christine is awesomely motivated, which is what it takes to balance the cost of raising a family in the District and saving for school," Emily says. "We’ve seen time and again that with that motivation to fix one’s finances and start a business, go back to school, or buy a house, even very low-income people can find a way to save and purchase their asset.”
Christine now has $4,000 saved to apply towards her public policy degree. Eventually, she hopes to go to law school. Once she has her undergraduate—and eventually her law school—degrees, her earning potential will significantly increase.
This is the idea behind the IDA accounts, which require that the individual’s savings be put towards an asset that will increase in value over time, such as education, homeownership or small business start-up or expansion.
Programs like these are what make The Women’s Foundation—and its Grantee Partners—so effective. Because we invest in strategies and people, like Christine, that generate an amazing return on investment.
Christine is the first of what will be up to 20 success stories to emerge from the partnership between Lydia’s House and CAAB over the next three years—for a combined savings of up to $80,000, leveraging thousands more in mortgages, scholarships, and student and small business loans.
Stay tuned for even more great results and impact from Stepping Stones—The Women’s Foundation’s long-term initiative focused on helping low-income, single mothers achieve economic security. Evaluation results for the first two and a half years of Stepping Stones will be available in April.