Paula Hernandez wanted to help her mother find a better way to manage the family budget.
So the 21-year-old Pittsburg resident turned to SparkPoint East Contra Costa, a one-stop resource center in Bay Point that houses 11 nonprofits and government agencies to help people improve their finances, find a job or get a better job, and build savings among other goals.
A financial counselor suggested Hernandez have her mother make up a list of the monthly household bills and expenses. The next step was to divide up the bill payments to coincide with the alternating weeks when her mother got paid. That way, bill payments would be spread out during the month. The third step was put what was leftover into savings.
"She was teaching me to how manage the money, to use a list to break out the expenses for each month (so) the bills won't be so overwhelming," said Hernandez, a bank teller who is studying criminal justice at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill with the goal of becoming a parole officer.
Hernandez, who started coming to SparkPoint six months ago, is thinking of taking a resume workshop. She also wants to pay down her own credit card debt. "I just want to get it cleaned," she said.
Bay Point and Pittsburg have high unemployment rates, along with many residents who are struggling to make ends meet financially. Since SparkPoint East Contra Costa opened in June 2011, it has served about 370 clients, said center director Dave Thompson,
The site at the Ambrose Community Center was already helping people qualify for Medi-Cal, food stamps and welfare-to-work benefits before SparkPoint brought in staffers from partnering nonprofits to provide services such as career guidance, job training, housing assistance, domestic violence counseling and financial education under one roof.
"When somebody comes in, they don't have to go to all these different organizations to find services," Thompson said. "Our focus (is on) helping people improve their income, credit scores, reducing debt and increasing assets typically through savings," he said.
SparkPoint's one-stop model means that financial counseling services work hand-in-hand with job training programs. If someone ends up getting a good-paying job, but fails to pay off credit card debt, then that person will not have long-term financial stability, he added.
SparkPoint East Contra Costa is one 10 SparkPoint centers that serve residents in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, San Francisco and Solano counties. Since the first one opened in Oakland in 2009, the centers have served more than 5,000 clients. Regionally, nearly 70 nonprofit and government agencies are collaborating in the poverty-fighting initiative spearheaded by United Way of the Bay Area.
Clients are more likely to succeed in reaching their goal when social services are grouped together in one location, said Emily Harpster, SparkPoint's regional director.
"The idea is to bring several together, make it easier to access services, and good things will happen," she said.
While bundling socials services together is not a new concept, what's difference about SparkPoint's approach is that clients are dealing with a single name, and not all the different names of the various nonprofits and government agencies providing the services.
"When a clients walks through the door they are experiencing SparkPoint," she said. "The client has a seamless experience."
Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189.
Location: Ambrose Community Center, 3105 Willow Pass Road, Bay Point
Information: 925-252-2300 or visit sparkpointcenters.org