Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative

Helping low-income older adults age in place with greater financial stability through an integrated suite of financial capability programs.

Photo of Linda Lagunzad
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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Cleveland, OH (44101-44199)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL


Facebook URL

ESOP, Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Historically, ESOP was known for our impact on foreclosure prevention. However, in 2011, we noticed a striking increase in the number of older homeowners who sought our help with mortgage delinquency problems. After conducting 24 “listening tables” with seniors to better understand the economic issues that impact their quality of life, a more systemic problem began to emerge: many seniors were nearing an abject financial crisis with little or no access to financial services and were at risk of losing their greatest asset - their homes. A systematic analysis of the variables that comprise a senior’s financial stability revealed that current programs were only addressing one component of a much larger, more complex problem.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

An increasing number of older adults are struggling to survive; 23.2% rely entirely on Social Security. Cleveland’s seniors age 55 and older are already 24% of the population, with 23% of Cleveland’s seniors living in poverty. They often take on high-interest debt and forego basic necessities. This directly leads negative individual financial outcomes and research suggests financial insecurity has a deleterious impact on health and wellness.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

ESOP’s solution to addressing the economic vulnerability of Northeast Ohio’s older adult population is an innovative and comprehensive suite of integrated services that provides seniors not only basic financial education, but more importantly, offers them the tools to put that education into action. Our service model is a holistic and integrated wraparound suite of services that increase the “financial capability” of seniors—defined as Knowledge + Skills + Access to Resources. ESOP’s SFEI provides older adults with programming that includes financial education workshops, one-on-one financial counseling and coaching, access to benefits, free income tax preparation, matched savings accounts, affordable small dollar loans and foreclosure prevention and property tax delinquency counseling. Overall, our SFEI helps vulnerable seniors to reduce their debt, develop good savings habits, decrease their monthly expenses, increase their savings and improve their credit score so they can meet their basic needs and remain in community as they age in place.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

James Moore is a 70-year old resident of Cleveland who came to ESOP in 2016 to have his taxes prepared through our free tax site. While he was able to afford his basic needs, he was in a tough financial position that threatened his ability to age in place after retirement. Mr. Moore received a tax refund and enrolled in one-on-one financial coaching and our matched savings account program, He set up an action plan to pay down his debt, start saving and develop a budget. After almost a year, Mr. Moore developed a new relationship with money, paid off his car and his credit cards, saved nearly $1,400, increased his credit score by 50 points, and more importantly, by developing a budget and sticking to it, he was able to retire five years earlier than planned and in a much stronger financial position than he ever expected.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Since its inception in 2014, we have provided financial capability services to over 15,000 low-income older adults through our Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative. In 2017, we counseled almost 4,000 older adults, with an average income being a mere $12,131. Our client base in 2017 was 73% African-American and 75% female.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Following the foreclosure crisis in 2007/2008, many housing counseling agencies added financial education counseling to their foreclosure prevention programming. However, ESOP was the first agency in the country to develop an integrated suite of financial capability programs focused exclusively on low-income older adults struggling to make ends meet and age in place with financial stability. It is our innovative service delivery model, our multi-prong approach and our focus on older adults that sets our program apart from other financial education programs.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

To illustrate the impact of ESOP’s SFEI suite of programs, consider the following programmatic outcomes for 2017: The average annual income of our older-adult counseling/coaching client was a mere $12,131. Even on this meager income, through one-on-one coaching and counseling, our clients increased their credit score by an average of 27 points, decreased their debt by an average of 20% or $2,415, decreased their monthly expenses on average by 22% or $218, and still managed to save $244. Those clients who participated in our innovative matched savings program, established an average emergency savings of $882. These are life-changing numbers for our senior clients who live at this level of poverty. To date, our program has helped over 15,000 low-income older adults increase their financial security and housing stability to help them age in place and remain in community.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Through a grant with JP Morgan Chase we developed a "Train the Trainer" curriculum and have already trained over 200 organizations in ten cities around the country to replicate our programming. We would like to expand that training by developing this as an on-line curriculum for other non-profits through licensing agreements and eventually, for consumers. We are also expanding our programming to include training for financial caregivers, many of who are part of the sandwich generation, taking care of aging parents and school-aged children. We would like to scale our program statewide.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

While we have incredibly diverse funding sources ranging from private donations to government, foundation and corporate support, we have also developed and have begun marketing a fee-for-service corporate model based on employee "lunch and learns". Further, we also founded a social enterprise, called ESOP Realty, which is Ohio's first on-profit real estate brokerage, whose mission is to help low-income Ohioans transcend poverty by making the dream of sustainable home ownership a reality.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The SFEI is comprised of a Director of Financial Counseling, three full-time and one part-time Financial Coaches. ESOP is a HUD-approved Housing and Financial Counseling Agency. All coaches are certified as Financial Counselors from NHNLA, with a special certification in “Financial Strategies for Older Adults”, as Ohio Benefit Bank Counselors by Ohio Association of Food Banks, as "Credit Counselors" from NeighborWorks Training institute and as Vision Screeners from Prevent Blindness Ohio.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • LGBTQ community
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

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Photo of Sarah

Interesting holistic service model and great explanation of community impact!