FREMONT -- Alicia Ali first lost her home to foreclosure and then lost her husband, who died about a year ago. Ali, a mother of six children, quickly struggled to make ends meet, and her precarious finances only worsened.
But life for the single mother changed for the better with a simple knock on her door.
Coming to visit were representatives of SparkPoint at the Fremont Family Resource Center, a nonprofit program helping low-income families climb out of poverty. They had visited her Irvington district apartment complex, saying she qualified for its services.
"I'm raising my kids after having to bury my husband; it's a constant struggle," said Ali, 46. "I hoped it would help me get out of my dire straits situation. When my home foreclosed, I thought, 'There goes my credit score.'"
Ten SparkPoint locations are sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, including Oakland, San Francisco and Vallejo. SparkPoint's southern Alameda County location operates out of the Fremont Family Resource Center, which offers social services to Tri-City area residents and is overseen by the Fremont Human Services Department.
The Fremont SparkPoint has pointed Ali in the right direction, she said.
"It's been a great help," she said. "I've been able to take advantage of their financial services."
Indeed, SparkPoint's main goal is to serve as a one-stop financial education center. It offers clients a personal coach who teaches money-managing skills, sets them up with savings programs and helps improve their credit.
It works best for people who are able to advocate for themselves and to take action to meet their goals, said Judy Schwartz, administrator of the Fremont Family Resource Center.
"It's not a handout," Schwartz said. "We can walk with those participating every step of the way, but it won't be effective unless they work really hard."
The program also provides a wide variety of services that may appear basic to the average person, but often are frustratingly out of reach for families in need. Those services include child care; employment skills, such as writing a resume or knowing where to post it online; legal assistance for consumer or housing foreclosure issues; education at the Fremont Adult School or continuation schools; and health care programs such as Medi-Cal.
"There are many different, creative strategies to help people become self-sufficient," Schwartz said.
SparkPoint Centers were created by the United Way of the Bay Area and are funded by a mix of private, public and charitable sources. Its Fremont location opened in January and since has served about 150 people and their families, Schwartz said.
"This is a long-term model," she said. "It could take two or three years, but we're in it for the long haul, and we'll be staying with each person to help them reach their goals."
For more information about SparkPoint Centers, call 510-574-2020.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.