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It all started with a young boy named David who lived in one of New York City’s most dangerous housing projects. Gerald Chertavian got to know David well through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Over the years Gerald remained a stable mentor in David’s life, when it was time for David to graduate high school, Gerald made a promise that if David maintained grades above a C then Gerald would pay his tuition. David excelled in college and now has a successful career. It struck Gerald that there were many more Americans who have the potential to succeed but lack opportunity. Gerald explains “I saw that our country had incredible young people…they’re often smart, ambitious, hungry, motivated, and incredibly talented. Yet, they have absolutely no idea how to move that talent to productive capacity.” Year Up was created with the idea that potential is distributed equally but opportunity is not. 

Year Up's mission is to close the opportunity divide, the gap that exists between the roughly five million young adults who are out of school and out of work, with no more than a high school diploma, and the roughly 12 million unfilled entry level jobs in America.   

The program model is simple and broken into two six-month sections. The first six months, called learning and development, students are in the classroom learning professional skills and technical skills. Courses are developed based on market demand. In Greater Philadelphia students can choose between Information Technology and Business Operations. The second six months, students spend in internships with major companies applying the skills they have learned during the learning and development period. At the end of one year, a student has earned up to 24 college credits, a six-month internship experience to build their resume, and incurred no student debt. While the program model is simple, the process is not easy. 

Students are held to high expectations throughout the year. This starts with a contract that lays out expectations and ensures each student is held to the same level of accountability. The contract has points associated with it and each student starts the year with 150 points. Students who meet expectations can earn additional points each week, while students that earn infractions against the agreed upon contract can lose points.  Students can lose points for tardiness, improper dress code, late assignments, or the like. Students that earn infractions and lose points see a reduction in their weekly stipend.  

With high expectations comes high support. Staff members serve as teachers and coaches during learning and development. Prior to the start of internship, students are matched with outside volunteer mentors, these mentors are an additional layer of support. Social workers on staff also serve as part of the support system, enabling students to address issues that may arise outside of Year Up. 

Most importantly, Year Up is not a charity, it is a road map to success for our students and a business solution for our corporate partners. Through this model, Year Up provides opportunity and access to both education and a professional career. Nationally, we partner with over 250 organizations

Year Up Greater Philadelphia launched in 2013 and has grown from 12 graduates in class one to more than 180 students per year with plans to grow the market and serve 320 students per year by 2020. Year Up Greater Philadelphia is one of 17 markets across the country. Nationally, Year up will serve approximately 4,000 opportunity youth in the United States this year. On average 90 percent of our graduates are employed and/or enrolled in higher education, of the students who are employed full time the average hourly wage is $19 an hour, and according to an external study the program boosts a young adults annual earnings by an average of 30 percent. 

Year Up is more than a workforce development program, and it is more than a business solution for corporate America. It is a movement, fighting for economic justice and equal opportunity for low-income young adults who otherwise would not have a pathway to success.  

Fall 2017 Attollo students who just completed the 6-week Attollo Recruit process and became Attollo Scholars.
Photo credit: PhotOlé Photography

After taking a hard hit to his head right before a big game, Jordan Steffy was determined to prove that he was able to start as quarterback in University of Maryland’s game on Saturday. The team doctor evaluated Jordan and said he believed he might have a concussion. The doctor happened to have a Rubik’s Cube on his desk, and Jordan picked it up and made a deal with the doctor, if he could learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, he was well enough to play.  

Jordan locked himself in his room for three days and worked hard and figured it out.  In the end he learned much more than how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Jordan learned that if he was willing to work hard at something, really hard -- he could achieve it. And, when he worked hard to create an opportunity, he had a feeling of accomplishment that he simply could not get if someone just gave him that same opportunity.

Flashback to freshman year, as Jordan’s personal mentor was dropping him off at the University of Maryland, and Jordan turned to thank him for basically saving his life. His mentor only said, “You can’t pay it back…so you have to pay it forward." After getting into trouble in middle school, which could have spiraled out of control quickly; Jordan was introduced to his mentor who had very high expectations and who held him accountable to exceptional standards. He was the reason that Jordan worked hard in school, on the field, on the court, and ended up with a football scholarship to the University of Maryland. 

So when Jordan thanked him, his response stuck, 

"You can’t pay it back…so you have to pay it forward."

Children Deserve a Chance Foundation and the Attollo program have been Jordan’s effort at paying it forward. Each student who graduates from Attollo (which means to Rise Up) receives the same message that Jordan received from his mentor. The purpose of Attollo is to not only help individual students to Rise Up; Attollo also helps our community to Rise Up. We are investing in students who, we believe, will be the leaders of tomorrow. Armed with the desire to work hard and the leadership principals to make change happen; Attollo scholars understand, "you can’t pay it back…so you have to pay it forward." 

Children Deserve a Chance Foundation was started in 2008, (the year that Jordan graduated from the University of Maryland) and was built on the premise that ‘Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.’ Now, celebrating its 10th anniversary, the foundation’s main program is Attollo, a leadership training and college access program hyper-focused on juniors and seniors in high school, and at the center of Attollo -- the Rubik’s Cube, of course.

Why is the Rubik’s Cube so important to Attollo? Less than one percent of the world’s population can currently solve the Rubik’s Cube. It has a genius stigma to it. It is confusing. It causes people to fail over and over again and requires tremendous amounts of practice to solve. And, when students reach that goal and keep striving to reduce their time, they realize that being willing to work hard at something, really hard, they can achieve it. 

Attollo is based on a theory of change. By enabling the students in our schools to Rise Up, we elevate the schools in our community, and ultimately, we elevate the entire community. The change begins with the individual and is based on the Box 4 mentality. Many of our students and their families begin in Box 1 and we strive to help them reach Box 4: 

Box 1: Heavily dependent upon community support
Box 2: Capable of taking care of one’s self
Box 3: Capable of taking care of one’s self and one’s family
Box 4: Capable of taking care of one’s self, one’s family, and giving back to the community

In 2014, Attollo began a partnership with a local school district that was having challenges reaching its diverse population, and so Attollo Recruit was born. Attollo Recruit is an in-school, six-week, 5:30 AM rite of passage, with cohorts comprised of 30 diverse students. Students are diverse on all levels: race, gender, socio-economic level, and academic performance. Attollo Recruit is focused on personal introspection, mastering the Rubik’s Cube, and learning the six core pillars of Attollo:

  • Strong Mind
  • Competition
  • Resiliency
  • Accountability
  • Sacrifice
  • Finish Strong

After successfully completing Attollo Recruit, students become Attollo Scholars and attend evening sessions three nights per week, receive SAT/ACT prep, and college essay training. During the summer, students take part in Attollo Adventure, get meaningful job shadow experiences, and go on a national college tour. During senior year, Attollo assists students in completing college applications, applying for financial aid, and transitioning to college. Attollo is grounded by the values of:

  • Growth mindset
  • Optimism
  • Resiliency
  • Data informed decision making
  • Passion
  • Respect for all families and communities

All programs and activities are data driven. Of the students who begin Attollo Recruit, 96.4 percent successfully complete it. There is a 98 percent attendance rate for the 5:30 a.m. meetings and the average SAT score increases by 110 points. Scholars spend an average of 550 hours annually in Attollo, versus the national average of 30 hours in another mentoring program. 100 percent of Attollo scholars graduate from high school and 98 percent attend college (two percent enter the military). These successes have led to phenomenal growth. In 2015-16, there were 30 Attollo Scholars. In 2016-17, there were 90 Attollo Scholars. For the 2017-18 school year there will be 210 scholars. This exponential growth will continue and by 2020 Attollo is expected to reach more than 1,000 scholars.

How do Attollo Scholars make these impressive strides? 

They are held accountable to their dreams. 

Attollo has a firm belief that the adversity some of these scholars face can well position them for leadership roles in society. The tools it takes to excel while facing adversity are transferable. Attollo Scholars use these tools to invest in their own success. If they are willing to arrive at school for six weeks at 5:30 a.m., they are making an investment. If they are willing to spend countless hours practicing the Rubik’s Cube to solve it in less than one and a half minutes, they are making an investment. If they are willing to learn the core pillars, they are making an investment. If they are willing to spend 50 hours preparing for SAT/ACTs, they are making an investment. If they are willing to work with Attollo mentors for 550 hours per year, they are making an investment. And if they are making an investment, they care about their return on that investment. The return manifests itself as the individual students achieve their goals, the schools improve their outcomes, and the communities ultimately have qualified diverse leaders who are passionate about making a difference. And it all begins with the Rubik’s Cube.

Works Cited

Children Deserve a Chance Foundation. Attollo Data 2015-2017. lancaster, PA. 2018.

Throughout the US, hundreds of thousands of people with moderate to severe disabilities participate in sheltered workshops or other “segregated” day programs offered by human service nonprofits. Under the supervision and with guidance from these nonprofits, they perform “piece-work” jobs such as assembling, packing, sorting, collating and mailing preparation. 

While this business model has worked for years, nonprofits now face a growing demand from these individuals as well as their family members to evolve from sheltered workshops into community-based work programs. 

The timing could not be better. Job placements at sheltered workshops are becoming more limited due to the passage of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which instead promotes community-based employment for people with disabilities. The closure of these workshops is now resulting in a new, untapped labor force -- individuals with disabilities. 


Ben working at Superior Ambulance 

Fortunately, there’s a growing demand in the marketplace for this labor pool from such major employers as Walgreens, Office Depot and UPS. They and other visionary business leaders recognize that people with disabilities make excellent employees for jobs that require repetitive tasks and positions that tend to experience a high turnover rate. 

These issues have driven Aspire Chicago to evolve as well. Founded in 1960, Aspire is recognized throughout Illinois as a leader in providing bold, pioneering and uncompromising services to children and adults with developmental disabilities, their families and the Chicago community. Today, we’re one of the most innovative human service nonprofits in the Midwest, with more than 200 dedicated team members serving nearly 1,000 kids and adults every year. 

Among our pioneering programs is Aspire CareerLink, a revolutionary initiative that breaks down the barriers facing adults with disabilities in the workplace by providing them with real-life, on-the-job training in the retail and warehouse distribution fields. Since its launch in 2014, this one-of-a-kind job-training program, whose model was created in partnership with Office Depot, has been very successful, enabling more than a dozen individuals to gain the practical and social skills needed to work in the community and experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from earning a paycheck. 

Aspire CareerLink’s teachings have been so spot-on that more than 90 percent of our graduates have gone on to attain full or part-time positions in the community with well-respected employers. Eighty percent of those employed have maintained consistent employment for one year or more. Given that most of the Aspire CareerLink graduates had never been employed before, this remarkable success proves our model of using simulated workspaces in partnership with local and national companies works.

Now Aspire is taking the next step. Thanks to this program’s success, we will now address the next generation of workers just starting out in their careers -- high school students with disabilities graduating throughout Illinois this spring. Like their peers without disabilities, these young people are yearning not only for new experiences and opportunities. They want to work in the community, not in sheltered, segregated workshops. 

And that can be a challenge. According to the 2014 Cornell University Disability Status Reports, the Illinois employment rate among working-age people with disabilities is just 36 percent, compared to 78 percent for people without disabilities. This disparity is due not to a lack of desire, but to the severely limited access that individuals with disabilities have to quality education and job training.


What will change these percentages, we believe, is Aspire Career Academy (ACA). Scheduled to open this spring, ACA is a unique, first-of-its kind learning environment that will offer job training for young adults with disabilities, along with multiple career paths in the industries that can most benefit from this untapped workforce. These industries range from food service, culinary, hospitality and healthcare, office skills, information technology, retail and warehousing/supply chain.

At ACA, we project serving 180 individuals during our first five years of operation, and placing 113 of them into competitively employed positions. Each graduate who secures employment will also receive on-site job coaching from Aspire for at least 90 days. Their employers will be coached as well on how to better support employees with disabilities, ultimately contributing to long-term job retention.

By achieving true community-based employment with a competitive wage, people with disabilities can experience the higher quality of life and increased self-determination that comes from success in their work, comfort in their home and satisfaction across all stages of their lives. 

Our broader goal for launching ACA is to contribute to the body of knowledge on creating true community-based employment options for people with disabilities. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded agencies and pioneering employers, share our findings, help identify best practices and explore how community-based employment positively impacts individuals with disabilities as well as the companies that employ them.

Author Bio

Jim Kales is CEO of Aspire, one of Chicagoland’s most innovative nonprofits. Aspire helps more than 1,000 kids and adults with disabilities, like autism and Down syndrome, and their families each year. Since Kales took the helm in 2007, Aspire’s private fundraising has tripled, boosted by a strong emphasis on corporate partnerships. Aspire has embraced social entrepreneurship and social media, launching its own coffee company, Aspire CoffeeWorks, in partnership with Chicago’s Metropolis Coffee Company. Aspire coffees are sold in all Chicagoland Whole Foods stores, brewed in more than 50 corporate offices and cafes and were featured nationally on the TODAY Show. In addition, Aspire CareerLink, which is Aspire’s career training program for adults with disabilities in partnership with Office Depot OfficeMax, was named a Top 100 Finalist by Chicago Innovation Awards. 

Prior to joining Aspire, Jim served as the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lake County, forging pioneering mentoring partnerships with Fortune 500 companies such as Baxter, CDW, HSBC and Macy’s. He served as Director of Communications for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, one of the nation’s largest United Ways, during a comprehensive rebranding process. Before that, Jim was the Project Coordinator for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which led the effort to enact the most sweeping ethics reform in Illinois history since Watergate. 

Jim graduated summa cum laude with honors from Bucknell University, and received his Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Adopting the guided pathways model means accepting the challenges associated with transforming an institution into one that is student centered. This seems simple enough -- and undoubtedly most community colleges describe themselves as student-centered. But the reality is much more complicated. The sweeping changes that accompany a transformational effort can stir uncertainty and no small amount of trepidation. At the macro level, departments are merged, reporting lines are changed, and policies created many years ago are challenged for their continued relevance. Those policies may be administrative with only an indirect impact on student learning, or they may be educational policies directly affecting student outcomes. Both can have an impact even before the student steps into their first class. Advisement policies, financial aid policies, payment plans, and the myriad of registration policies -- and procedures -- are among those that demand close examination for their continued relevance. Similarly, educational policies like testing, placement, and first-year advisement are among the minefield of practices that can increase the risks associated with student failure. 

A concern that continues to challenge the onboarding process is testing and subsequent placements. Recent research suggests that the production model of mass testing and placement is not particularly student-centered nor is it necessarily accurate. In Redesigning America’s Community College, the authors -- Bailey, Jaggars, and Jenkins -- cite J. Scott-Clayton’s work challenging the traditional model of relying on single indicators, or discreet scores, to place students into their initial classes. Beyond the cut scores’ lack of predictability, the overreliance on a single score places too much of an emphasis on minimums and fails to assess motivation, critical thinking, or grit. This is a formula that assesses students’ weaknesses and not their strengths. Sadly, this approach does not take into account the scope of a student’s prior experiences. Those experiences are marked by their tenacity and their ability to balance family responsibilities, work, and far too many obstacles for most to understand. Too many high school students have fallen victim to learning environments that failed to push them to their full potential. They were among the best in their high school class yet, when they arrive at the doors of the community college, they are placed into remediation. According to their high school grades, these were good students, motivated students, and students ready to achieve and pursue their dreams. But the traditional approach to mass testing often fails to calculate those strengths into an accurate final placement. The onboarding process needs to be redesigned to leverage students’ enthusiasm as well as recognizing their academic strengths.  

However, when it is clear that remediation is needed, it is best to place the student into a learning environment consistent with their goals and aspirations and not stifle motivation by placing them into disconnected reading, writing, and math courses. Every effort should be made to apply engaged learning with career-focused and contextualized materials. If course content is unrelated to student aspirations, they are much more likely to lose interest. Creating career clusters that vertically align with the pre-college experience is an essential component of the pathways design. And along the way, proactive wrap-around services will help students with academic and/or, personal challenges. The implementation of a caseload model for advisement services removes the randomness of an open advisement system; and, integrated technologies such as Starfish help to facilitate student engagement between courses and beyond the classroom. 

At the micro level, the conversations about courses and learning outcomes are equally challenging. The debates about which skills and knowledge are most important are as old as our institutions of higher education. Throughout our history, the nation has wrestled with the fundamental question of how institutions of higher education can best be organized to further the interests of the growing democratic society and the evolving economic and social challenges. In many ways, the origins of the guided pathways strategies stem from the desire to confront those social and economic needs. At its core, the guided pathways approach challenges traditional thinking about higher education’s role in preparing the learned and productive citizen solely through the liberal arts and related values and truths. For many, multiple options within the liberal arts curriculum foster intellectual curiosity and a lifelong commitment to the love of learning. While we all share in the importance of a solid liberal arts education as foundational to a college education, an outstanding question continues to center around the degree to which we are able to blend career and technical education with a reasonable complement of courses in the liberal arts. Can this be done without creating a course for every specialized interest growing out of the broad subject areas of the liberal arts?  

Implementation of a guided pathways strategy encourages the reduction of options that are not consistent with career goals or program clusters. This should not be interpreted as a narrowing of the curriculum. In fact, the tradition of intellectual exploration is preserved when the guided pathways strategy is implemented and the student’s goals are reinforced and within sight. A student’s career passion sparks their curiosities while fostering a deeper desire to understand the subject matter related to their interests. They explore nuances and are able to think critically about a body of knowledge aligned with their aspirations. Rather than course selections based on curiosities in unrelated areas of study, students are connected to rich learning experiences with coherence and relevance to their chosen fields. Their college experience becomes one continuous pathway with a clear end-goal in sight. Flexibility within course selection is important but a laissez-faire environment -- or what is commonly referred to as the cafeteria model -- slows progress. Further, research has shown that too many choices creates a level of paralysis that distracts and often diverts attention away from the goal. Plus, it’s costly. 

The fundamental goal is to have students persist, graduate, and join their communities as contributing members. This does not detract from the goal of lifelong learning. In fact, career success internalizes the importance and value of education. The pathways model addresses the nation’s reality of far too many students attending college with no defined purpose or outcome. While many community college students are clear about the importance of a college education or a career goal, most are in need of guidance and specific strategies to help them succeed. They are determined to provide a better life for themselves and their families and, in large urban cities, that determination includes a certain level of urgency. The guided pathways model helps to facilitate their success.

Works Cited

Baily, Thomas; Jaggars, Shanna; Jenkins, Davis. Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, Presidents & Fellows of Harvard, 2015 

Author bio

Dr. Donald Generals, a strong advocate for community colleges, is the sixth president of Community College of Philadelphia. With a focus on student success, he has emerged as a leader in the national reform initiative Guided Pathways, which involves a college reorganization to ensure curricular alignment between academic programs and related support services. The resulting impact has shown positive trends in graduation rates and retention. An educator and seasoned researcher, Dr. Generals is an expert on the roots of the progressive education movement. This concept is advanced by leading scholars who believe schools must be effective agencies of a democratic society. In 2013, Dr. Generals authored a book titled, Booker T. Washington: The Architect of Progressive Education.

Executive Summary

The link between stable personal finances and physical health is fairly intuitive and clear. If someone is struggling with health issues, it follows that employment could be reduced or eliminated, setting off a chain reaction. Similarly, someone who is struggling to make enough money to pay their bills is unlikely to have health insurance, access expensive health care, eat healthy food, and otherwise engage in activities lead to positive health outcomes.  

In the last two decades, our economy has experienced several shifts that have exacerbated the ways in which health and personal finances are linked. Between growing health care cost and stagnating wages, consumers are left with more precarious financial and health challenges.

Clarifi has implemented a number of studies to better understand this link and has tested out several strategies to use financial counseling and wellness to improve physical health. We believe that this can both improve the quality of life for consumers and generate revenue for health care providers through continuation of health coverage and improved health outcomes.


At Clarifi, the Philadelphia region’s largest nonprofit provider of financial counseling and education, we know that personal finances touch every aspect of a person’s life. Careers, marriage, family relationships, leisure, home -- all of these are significantly impacted and altered by financial stability.

Physical health has always been a part of this equation. To be sure, for decades Clarifi’s counselors noted that not having health insurance was often a cause of bankruptcy for our clients. In addition, research has clearly shown that stress impacts health negatively. Financial stress is among the most persistent and acute kind of stress. The link between poor health and poor finances has long been evident to us at Clarifi. 

In the last 15 years or so, increasing health care costs, growing complexity in consumer finance, and changes in the health insurance marketplace are exacerbating this link.

First, acute and persistent financial stress is becoming a way of life for a growing number of people. As wages stagnate for all but the wealthiest, more consumers are finding themselves spending more time in paycheck-to-paycheck purgatory, living with near constant financial worry. Whereas in decades past, only the most impoverished suffered from a lifetime of daily financial worry, now people with steady employment cannot quite keep their head above water.   

An additional complication is that the cost of health care, particularly for those that have insurance, is increasing. For individuals without health insurance, health care has consistently been too expensive to access. However, we are now observing that people who have health insurance are struggling to afford care whether due to premiums, deductibles, or high co-pays. As noted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in September 2015, the average deductible for people with employer-provided health coverage rose from $303 to $1,077 between 2006 and 2015 (Employer Health Benefits Survey, 2015).

An April 2016 brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that between 2004-2014 patient cost-sharing rose substantially faster than payments for care by health plans as insurance coverage became a little less generous (Claxton et al, 2016). As noted, this increase has occurred at the same time that workers’ wage growth has been stubbornly slow.  

Two decades ago, co-pays and deductibles were negligible expenses for most households. Now people are having to budget and plan carefully to afford maintaining health coverage and accessing care. Even people with employer-provided coverage are finding themselves struggling to find the money for care. When budgets are tight, consumers delay doctor’s appointments and skip prescriptions, leading to poorer health outcomes.

It is against this backdrop that Clarifi works to identify solutions for the clients we serve.

In 2008, at the peak of the housing crisis, we collaborated with Craig Pollack and Julia Lynch, researchers out of the University of Pennsylvania, for a study of 250 Clarifi clients who sought financial counseling to avoid foreclosure. Our clients completed surveys surrounding their socioeconomic situation, self-assessed health status, diagnosed health status, and pertinent information about health and finances such as cost-based non-compliance with prescription medications. 

We learned that more than one-third of homeowners in foreclosure suffered from major depression. The foreclosure sample also showed a higher likelihood of lacking health insurance; higher levels of cost-related healthcare non-adherence; and higher levels of food insecurity. Astoundingly, nearly nine percent reported that their own or a family member’s medical condition was the primary reason for the mortgage default and threatened foreclosure. Moreover, more than a quarter of the members of the foreclosure sample (29.2 percent) had medical bills in excess of $1,000 that were not covered by insurance, and 27.7 percent reported that they owed money to medical creditors (Pollack, C E, et al., 2011). This research really helped provide quantitative evidence for what we knew to be true --  the clients we see who are under financial distress are almost certainly experiencing health consequences, and vice versa.

In an effort to further understand these trends, Clarifi engaged in additional research in the areas of health and personal finance. In 2016, we teamed up with the Center for Financial Security out of the University of Wisconsin to conduct a study of our clients’ health as compared to their finances. The study found a strong correlation between poor health and poor finances. Clients with prescription drug cost problems were less confident in their ability to make ends meet in a financial emergency. Clients who had late payments on their credit report in the last 30, 90, or 120 days were more likely to have experienced problems paying for prescription medications (Collins & Nafziger, 2017).  

The introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed the relationship that many people had with the healthcare system, as many people became insured for the first time and were navigating a new world of premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. Many were seeking high quality insurance but unaware or unprepared for the associated costs.

In partnership with the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), Clarifi trained several financial counselors to serve as health insurance navigators under the Affordable Care Act. These counselors are uniquely positioned to help consumers understand the costs of the health plans they choose and budget to meet those costs. Since 2015, Clarifi has helped thousands of people consider their health insurance options, including helping nearly 500 consumers select affordable health insurance plans.

As a result of developing these expertise, our counselors were able to work with the Center for Financial Security to contribute to the development of a “FinMed” training module. The financial coaching team at the Center for Financial Security is designing this module to train other financial counselors around the country on the personal financial implications of health insurance decisions.  

At the same time, we searched for opportunities to test out using financial counseling to positively impact health. To that end, we collaborated with the Rising Sun Health Center, a nurse-led federally qualified health center to implement a Medical Financial Partnership (MFP). The MFP integrates Clarifi’s financial counseling and education services with Rising Sun’s comprehensive health services.  

We conducted a comprehensive evaluation of more than 300 patients who received services from our financial counselor at Rising Sun in 2015 and 2016. Using surveys, personal financial information, and health records, we were able to take a comprehensive look at how financial counseling affected the patients we served. We learned that the MFP helped increase financial literacy and financial capability for the clients served at Rising Sun. The percentage of clients with enough savings to cover three months of expenses increased from 1.6 percent  to 12.9 percent in that period; while the percentage who reported having less than a month’s worth of savings decreased from 82 percent  to 69 percent. The percentage of clients who reported “always” worrying about finances decreased from 66.7 percent  to 50 percent. Patients reported that the program helped reduce financial stress, improve financial behaviors, and improve their self-reported health.

In an attempt to understand if and how financial counseling and coaching might be more scalable, Clarifi teamed up with the Center for Financial Security and Jefferson University to test out the impact of telephone-based financial coaching for patients of a primary care facility. We expect final results of this study in 2018.

If we can continue this work, we hope to demonstrate that care providers can receive more revenue through continuity of health coverage and improved health outcomes by integrating financial counseling and education into health care service delivery.  

We know that for many people, their medical situation cannot be improved until other issues in their life are addressed. Many social determinants of health are financial in nature and must be prioritized in order to create lasting positive health outcomes. We believe that including financial educators and counselors as a component of a comprehensive health care treatment approach creates a holistic response reducing stress and promoting overall well-being in the community. This integrated combination of services will allow patients to gain greater control over their present and future finances.

Works Cited

“2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey - Summary Of Findings.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 14 Sept. 2016, Link.

Claxton, Gary, et al. “Consumer Assets and Patient Cost Sharing.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 11 Apr. 2016, Link.

Collins, J. Michael, and Mia Nafziger. “Finances and Health: Clarifi Survey Data.” Center for Financial Security.

Pollack, C E, et al. “A Case-Control Study of Home Foreclosure, Health Conditions, and Health Care Utilization.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2011, Link.

Philadelphia is a city juxtaposed. Her arms are buoyed, lifted by interminable possibilities. She is, after all, the sixth largest city in the country. In 2016, she boasted a job growth of 2.2 percent compared to a 1.7 percent national average, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Philadelphia 2017” report1. She is known as the city of “eds and meds” -- home to more than one hundred higher education institutions and a vigorous healthcare industry. By most accounts, she is well equipped to house, educate, employ, entertain, transport, and provide for many of her residents’ needs and much of their wants. But not all.  

Her ankles are weighed by her ever-present, challenging, inequitable realities. Accordingly, she struggles to find her footing. Her unemployment rate in October 2017 was 5.6 percent, according to Philadelphia Works,2 while the national average was 4.1 percent, as reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures.3 Though her college degree attainment rate is increasing, her high school graduation rate requires work, as does her ability to equip adults with baseline skills to live well and compete for quality jobs. Her most pronounced problem is her dizzying poverty rate. At 25.7 percent, it is the highest amongst the country’s largest cities and, as shown in a 2017 Pew Charitable Trusts report, has continuously risen over the past few years (10.3 percent) while, comparatively, the nation’s poverty rate has steadied at 12.7 percent.4  

Philadelphia’s body parts -- arms, legs, feet, and mind -- are stretched between two worlds and realities. She is, by all accounts, a tale of two disparate cities. But the good news is -- she has much of what is required to reconcile her disconnects in order to become a more equitable, centered city. 

Her promise begins with a mayor who has prioritized addressing the city’s poverty issue with a multitude of levers -- intentional investments, education, workforce development, and a focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity. That promise continues with the growing attention from cross-sector leaders and organizations who have embraced their respective roles in addressing poverty more directly. And although, arguably, the poverty issue is both vast and steep and proposed solutions are at times widely imperfect, Philadelphia is a city determined to tackle her greatest challenge.  

Today, Philadelphia no longer wonders if she should confront poverty with a deep sense of urgency. She wonders about the how of it. She is fully aware that doing so is critical to her survival.  

The how of it requires unprecedented investment: commitment, brainpower, resources, and the power of unfettered partnership. It requires the abandonment of myopic and oftentimes inequitable, disconnected initiatives. Arriving at a state of reconciliation requires the understanding that no one sector, company, initiative or individual can singularly solve her colossal problem. Every sector, every organization, every leader, has a substantial role to play.  And we must play those roles without being saddled by conventional thinking. Academia is no different. 

Higher education can be a powerful lever in the disruption of poverty. Its most obvious play is to educate and work collaboratively with employers. Together, we can accomplish positive outcomes through career exposure opportunities (i.e. internships and co-ops) and the informing of curriculum through employer-advised boards. Higher education can also make an impact through its most salient output -- the conferring of degrees and equipping of our workforce with relevant credentials and the critical competencies required to perform in the workplace. This is academia’s most fundamental place in our society. But, in an economy like Philadelphia’s, in a city where poverty arrests more than 400,000 of our residents’ potential, where there is a 23.4 percent poverty rate among adults 18-64 according to Pew Charitable Trusts,4 academia’s role must be radically adjusted. We must embrace our role as the developers of the workforce, at a more practical level, and approach our work more holistically.

At Peirce College, Philadelphia’s premier college for diverse, working adult learners, we have been working with unwavering earnest to disrupt mindsets about higher education. We have partnered with numerous players -- from city hall leaders, to C-suite occupants in corporate headquarters, to non-profit thought leaders, to advocates in public forums -- to do just this. As a private non-profit that serves approximately 2,300 students, we recognize our footprint may not be as expansive as that of larger institutions but with laser focus on the poverty issue and by leveraging the power of intentional partnerships, our reach can be scaled.  

We are not new to this approach. As a 152-year-old institution, Peirce has played a role in the cradle to career continuum, focusing primarily on adult learners, for some time.  Although disrupting poverty may not have been an explicit, stated priority for the College in the past, economic mobility has always been at the heart of what we do. It was this concept that undergirded our thinking when we opened our doors to returning war veterans and to women in 1865. Providing equitable academic access mattered then and matters, still, today. As an institution that is open to all who seek an education, in today’s expression of access, Peirce largely serves under-employed, under-credentialed, first generation college, black men and women seeking not just a job but a career path. Our work is timely and relevant. In 2016, Philadelphia’s poverty rate among black residents was second lowest among the poorest large cities, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study4

How do we do it? We think holistically about our students’ needs and leverage the power of intentional partnerships. An example of our mindset is our five-year-old relationship with Year Up, a nonprofit committed to narrowing the opportunity divide for disconnected 18-24-year-old urban youth. Together, we have served more than 300 students who were, through varied circumstances, standing at the sidelines of Philadelphia’s post-secondary and workforce opportunities.  

Another example of our holistic approach to education is our more recent partnership with Comcast’s Internet Essentials. Launched in the fall of 2017, this program enables us to work jointly with Comcast in its goal of narrowing the digital divide. The digital gap is most pronounced in low-income homes. By ensuring Peirce students have access to affordable computers and low-cost internet service, we are not only strengthening their ability to perform academically but we are also underscoring the importance of digital access and promoting effective navigation in their homes.

This spring, Peirce will also launch a 12-week entry level workforce training program in non-clinical healthcare for city residents. With an investment from United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, this program will target Philadelphia’s under-credentialed and under-employed. 

Each initiative, albeit a departure from the traditional conventions of academia, is still predicated on the importance of learning and gaining workforce-relevant skills and credentials. However, it amplifies academia’s role. By adjusting our mindset and expanding not what we do but how we do it, higher education can partner with Philadelphia in reconciling her differences and making her a more educated, economically prosperous, equitable, and inclusive city with the strain and stain of poverty at her formidable back. 

Works Cited

1The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2017, Apr 6). Philadelphia 2017: The state of the city. Philadelphia Research Initiative. Retrieved from

2Philadelphia Works. (2017). Workforce trends & data. Retrieved from

3National Conference of State Legislatures. (2018, Jan 5). National employment monthly update. Retrieved from

4The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2017, Nov 15). Poverty in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Research Initiative. Retrieved from

Executive Summary 

Day laborers and domestic workers -- low-wage, contingent, and mostly immigrant workers -- are some of the most marginalized populations in Chicago. Most day laborers earn minimum wage or less, and among domestic workers, wages as low as three to five dollars an hour are common. Latino Union's innovative worker-run hiring hall at the Albany Park Workers Center is offering these workers the opportunity to connect with employers, begin using written contracts, and find living-wage work. 

Instead of seeking employment on public sidewalks or through often-abusive agencies and middlemen, workers access a daily job distribution list and collectively market their work. A coordinator helps facilitate the hiring process between workers and employers. The Center’s average wages in the 2015-16 program year were $32 an hour -- three times Chicago’s minimum wage; 30 percent of participants reported that they increased their number of repeat clients, personal clients, and/or referrals; and 28 percent of program participants went on to find permanent or semi-permanent jobs, with average wages of $21.72 an hour.

Responding to the Challenges of Low-Wage Industries

An emerging workers’ rights movement has drawn attention to the challenges faced by low-wage workers in informal sectors, including low pay, employers who abscond without paying workers, underemployment, a lack of opportunities for career mobility, sexual harassment, safety risks, verbal abuse, and retaliation against workers who organize.

This movement is driven by community-based “worker centers,” nonprofit organizations that support low-wage workers in addressing labor issues. Best practices among worker centers include sector-based organizing, where nonprofits serve specific workers in specific sectors with large concentrations of low-wage workers, high incidences of abuse, and the potential for policy reforms (Cordero-Guzman, 2014).

Though rooted in systemic policy issues, many of these challenges can also be addressed at the individual level. The Chicago-based Albany Park Workers Center, a worker-run, living-wage hiring hall, offers a model solution for improving workers’ individual career outcomes while engaging them in advocacy to create systemic change in their industries.

The program serves Chicago’s day labor and domestic work industries, which are rife with wage theft, employer abuse, and hazardous working conditions. Day laborers are low-wage, mostly immigrant workers who gather at seven street corner hiring sites around Chicago. At the corner, they wait for contractors, residents, and business owners to hire them for construction, landscaping, and moving work. Waiting at the corner leaves them unable to access traditional workforce development programs and vulnerable to immigration raids and police harassment (Valenzuela et al, 2006).

Domestic worker Lucia Wrooman speaks at 3.8.16 ceremony to open APWC hiring hall to domestic workers

Domestic workers are overwhelmingly women of color and/or immigrant women who work in private homes as nannies, housecleaners, caregivers for the elderly, and personal care assistants for people with disabilities. Domestic workers in most states lack the same workplace protections that are standard for other workers, such as a state minimum wage, breaks, and protection from sexual harassment. (Burnham and Theodore, 2012). In the Chicago area, wages as low as three to five dollars an hour are common.

In addition to these longstanding challenges, Albany Park’s day laborer community faced a crisis in 2003 when Chicago police and a local alderwoman shut down and fenced off a longstanding hiring site, a devastating loss of a physical space that generated thousands of dollars a year in income for workers who depended on it. Facing these challenges, displaced day laborers created the Albany Park Workers Center in 2004. In March 2016, the Center expanded to include domestic workers.

At the Intersection of Collective Bargaining, Cooperative Economics, Ethical Consumption & Job Training

The Albany Park Workers Center’s collective wage scales and contracts have updated the idea of collective bargaining for the age of the informal, temporary gig economy. Day laborers and domestic workers collectively set minimum wage rates for different types of jobs; individual workers are free to negotiate higher wages based on their skills and experience. This system has resulted in average wages of $32 an hour for jobs that come through the hiring hall.

The Workers Center program is governed by the Latino Union members who seek jobs through it. In monthly meetings, members propose, debate, and vote on rule changes, including how the daily job list lottery works, marketing, and requirements for participation. Programs engage members in continuous improvement through a collaborative cycle of action, reflection, and testing new ideas.

The program is staffed by a coordinator who replies to calls and emails from prospective employers; collects job details; supports workers in following the Center’s health and safety code; and runs a daily lottery to determine the order in which workers are offered incoming jobs each day. Once a worker has negotiated job details with an employer, the coordinator prepares a written contract and enters details into the center’s data system for ongoing evaluation of hourly wage rates, overall earnings, demand for skills, and employer satisfaction. 

Employers pay the worker directly, eliminating the need for the program coordinator to administer wage collections and payments. Following a job’s completion, the coordinator surveys employers, asking them to rate their satisfaction and offer ideas for improving the program which are then suggested to worker members. The coordinator also encourages satisfied employers to call the worker directly for future jobs, rather than calling the Center, ensuring that workers with satisfied customers can work more independently and reduce their reliance on the program.

For workers with multiple barriers to employment, the coordinator also offers ongoing coaching on negotiating with employers, problem-solving around issues such as transportation, language interpretation, and other soft employment supports. While waiting for work and outside of Center operation hours, workers access drop-in workforce development training including workplace English classes; trainings in customer service; workplace safety trainings; and peer and expert-taught workshops in hard skills such as green cleaning, CPR (a critical marketable certification for nannies and home care workers), drywall, painting, moving and other construction and home maintenance topics. In combination with the Center’s wage scale, trainings have created a career lattice in which workers can increase their earnings and expand their skills to include new areas of work over the course of their time participating in the program.

To enter the daily job lottery, workers are required to participate in weekly outreach to employers, in which thousands of postcards advertising the program are distributed in neighborhoods around Chicago. While the Center is not a worker cooperative, its collective marketing and branding means that every worker’s performance, good or bad, influences consumer perception and the likelihood that an employer will recommend the program to others. This automatic feedback loop drives high performance overall – employers rate their satisfaction as 8.8 out of 10, on average -- and ensures that when a customer service issue does arise, workers rapidly resolve it and hold each other accountable.

One key challenge for the Albany Park Workers Center and any similar program is that its impact (number of workers served and earnings) depends on the resources that are available to market the program to employers. Workers who are not hired within a few days of showing up at the hiring hall will become discouraged and leave. Just as any ecosystem has a carrying capacity, programs that have found a certain market niche and employer base will rarely be able to expand without a substantially increased investment in marketing to new groups of employers. Therefore, organizations seeking to implement a similar program must beware of the nonprofit starvation cycle (Gregory and Howard, 2009) and continually invest in marketing in order to ensure a successful program.

The Center occupies a unique market space as an alternative to street corner hiring sites and domestic worker hiring agencies. Employers are primarily homeowners who are looking for support with maintenance, landscaping, moving, or house cleaning. They are attracted by the ease of contracting a worker from the Center, since the center offers a support system and guarantee of quality that street corner hiring sites and bulletin boards do not.

Many also turn to the Center because they want to be ethical employers. Homeowners are increasingly aware that employment in informal sectors is fraught with legal and ethical issues; that domestic worker agencies provide little of the fees they charge to the workers themselves; and realize that workers do not have the expertise needed to navigate employment law. The Workers Center’s collective wage rates and lawyer-reviewed contracts offer them a solution and guarantee that workers in their home are receiving fair pay.

As for workers, the Center offers outstanding benefits that address some of the most urgent problems workers face. In addition to virtually eliminating accidents and wage theft, the Center connects workers with living-wage employers hundreds of times per year; provides a warm, safe space to seek work away from the police officers, immigration agents, and sometimes hostile business owners who often disrupt street corner hiring sites; and provides a sense of community in industries where many workers are immigrants, working in isolation and living apart from family. 

Latino Union’s hiring hall program is funded primarily by workforce development grants, as well as $30 annual dues paid by each of the organization’s members. While it’s laudable that many workforce development funders are now seeking to create pathways for workers to access career training for high-demand, middle-skilled jobs, it bears asking what workforce development programs can support workers in informal industries who are unable to access higher education due to low literacy levels, ineligibility to enroll in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act-funded programs, lack of documentation, family responsibilities, and language barriers. The Albany Park Workers Center model offers one possible answer.

Works Cited

Cordero-Guzman, Hector R. 2014. “Community-Based Organizations, Immigrant Low-wage Workers, and the Workforce Development System in the United States.” Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.

Gregory, Ann G. and Howard, Don. “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 7, no. 4 (2009):49-53

 Valenzuela, Abel; Theodore, Nik; Meléndez, Edwin; and Gonzalez, Ana L. 2006. “On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States.” Center for Urban Economic Development.

Burnham, Linda and Theodore, Nik. 2012. “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.” National Domestic Workers Alliance

Author Bio

Rebecca Harris is Latino Union’s Development and Communications Manager. Rebecca is a 2008 graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism; before joining Latino Union, she worked as an investigative journalist covering Chicago Public Schools for Catalyst Chicago magazine. 

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