Financial Empowerment Center at South County (FEC) Managed by Britepaths in partnership with the United Way NCA and Fairfax County, VA

Provide low-income people access to a full range of services to move themselves out of poverty and achieve long-term financial stability.

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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?

the Route 1 Corridor of Fairfax County, Virginia (south end of County and includes parts of Alexandria, VA)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

July 1, 2017

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)


  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

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.

Britepaths has had many successful clients like Mrs. E who have shown that we can change people's lives. “When I started at Britepaths, I was at the very bottom. I didn't know anything about money, budgeting, and I always wanted my children to have better. I want to put them through college, teach them everything they know about savings because I don't want them to have to struggle at the age that I'm at now, trying to make ends meet. So, I've come from living paycheck-to-paycheck to now being able to save and live comfortably. When you're able to manage your money, you're not sitting there waiting for a paycheck, or when your next funds are going to come in. You just continue budgeting your money, setting yourself toward that discipline.”

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

1 in 17 residents of Fairfax County, VA live in poverty. Poverty and income disparity are increasing and areas, such as the Route 1 Corridor, have residents who face multiple challenges, including poverty, unaffordable housing, and poor education. The families live paycheck to paycheck and when a crisis hits, they can lose their homes and/or lack money for food. They need the tools to stretch their limited dollars so they can be self-sufficient.

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

The FEC serves as a “one stop shop” for financial coaching, workforce development, asset building, and benefits access. We use community partners to work toward long term collective impact and increase financial stability for residents in the Route 1 area. We offer classes on credit, tax prep, budgeting and more. Clients can also meet individually with a Financial Coach, where they develop a budget and at least 3 action steps toward resolving their financial problems. The Coach may also provide the client information on additional services or refer them to a partner service. Additionally, we are piloting a pre-apprenticeship program, for clients without a high school education. We will provide remedial and contextualized instruction in the core areas of math, reading and writing. Students will also receive soft skills training, resume writing and interviewing skills help. By the end of the program, students can pass the State exam. Throughout the experience and up to 12 months after completion, students will be matched with a volunteer success mentor who will support them, provide resources, refer them to other benefits and work with them to find and stay in a job.

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

Lora came to the FEC to participate in a Budgeting class and afterward she met with a financial coach. Lora is on disability with a fixed income. Her credit report was good, but she needed to work on a budget, pay down debt and start an emergency fund. Since then, she has come monthly to follow up with her plan. She has been working on her budget, starts paying a little more than the minimum for her credit card debt and opened a saving account where she has made monthly deposits for an emergency fund. During the holiday season, we connected her with social workers for holiday assistance and came back to the FEC to share her very positive experience. Lora says that she has found hope and encouragement here at the FEC. She learned how to take control over her spending and is confident that she is getting close to paying off her credit card debt without bringing stress to her life.

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?

97% of FEC clients are low income families. They are in desperate need of economic assistance as the unemployment rate in the Route 1 Corridor is greater than 10% and the poverty rate is greater than 15%. The FEC’s approach is to build trust; that our free services are credible, accessible and relevant to their needs. We offer multiple ways to engage to meet clients where they are in life. Our intention is for clients to use our services multiple times. This is when we see lasting change.

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

  • ability
  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic class

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

The Northern Virginia area has several non-profits that offer pieces of the services we offer, but nowhere else has it all under one roof. We firmly believe in bringing services to client locations and offering them as much holistic help as possible. We partner with many other organizations to offer all clients as many services as possible, both at the FEC and their sites. The FEC is part of a larger effort by the United Way to establish “one stop shops” for financial empowerment across the country. The United Way partners with local governments and non-profits to offer these services.

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

The FEC opened July 1, 2017 and since then we have provided services for 1,365 individuals through classes, workshops, and financial coaching using 59 trained volunteers, 4 staff, and many community partners. Additionally, 294 of those clients returned for another service at the FEC. Early indications are that the coaching session is making a difference. We follow-up with clients after 90 days, and of the clients who responded to the follow-up survey call, 72.5% improved their financial habits score. Exit surveys from classes showed that the clients appreciated the session substance and instructors. Joan recently attended a “Building a Better Credit” class at the FEC. Two days later she came for a financial coaching session. She scheduled another appointment with her coach for next month and enrolled in another class. In the last three weeks she has been working on her budget.

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

We plan to scale our impact by adding a workforce component to the FEC. Beginning July 1, 2018, we will begin to pilot a pre-apprenticeship program. The Program Manager will also be available to meet with other FEC clients to assist with job searching skills. Additionally, the FEC will also offer year-round tax preparation assistance, small business development counseling, and some computer classes. We plan to expand our youth and senior citizens classes, as well. We will continue to ramp up our marketing strategies and messaging to attract more clients and more partner organizations.

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

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation

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

The FEC is currently funded at a basic level by the United Way of the National Capital Area, with extended funding through June 2020. Fairfax County has also provided base funding for the Pre-apprenticeship pilot program through June 2020. Our staff is small and we rely on trained professional volunteers to serve as financial coaches and workforce mentors. Britepaths, as managers of the FEC will continue to apply for funding opportunities to help us sustain and expand the FEC.

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 FEC has 4 full time staff: Maria Jose Cantoni, Director, CPA and has 5 years non-profit programs management; Dawn Sykes, Manager, MBA with 5 years non-profit programs management; Martha Borowski, Trainer, MBA, AFC, financial counselor and Business college professor; and Sally Meyers, Workforce Development Manager, MAT and is a certified Career Development Facilitator, 4 years of non-profit program management experience. Part-time are an office assistant and Adult Basic Education teacher.

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

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

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

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

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No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

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Yes/maybe - 100%

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No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

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No - 50%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

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No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 100%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 100%

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Attachments (2)

FEC Article from Fairfax County News.docx

Article from Fairfax County News from FEC Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

FEC Activities photos.pages

some of the activities that happen daily at the FEC


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