Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative

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

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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.

ESOP was Ohio’s largest foreclosure prevention agency. In 2011 we discovered that 40% of our foreclosure clients were over 55. At a time when seniors should have been approaching their golden years with financial security, they were instead struggling to save their homes. As a result, we conducted 24 listening tables with seniors to better understand the economic issues that impacted their quality of life. A more systemic problem emerged: many seniors were nearing an abject financial crisis with a dwindling ability to meet their basic needs. A deeper analysis revealed that current programs addressed only one component of a larger, more complex problem. We needed a new service delivery model to address the myriad of needs facing our clients.

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?

After the Great Recession, many housing counseling agencies expanded to include Financial Education. ESOP was the first agency to develop an integrated suite of Financial CAPABILITY programs (knowledge + skills + access to resources), focused exclusively on low-income older adults struggling to make ends meet. Our innovative and integrated service delivery model sets our program apart from others. By providing various programmatic entry points and a variety of services throughout the year, seniors build trust with ESOP, a barrier that often prevents seniors from seeking help

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?

We have longstanding funding support from private donations, government, corporations, and foundations. We also have a successful fee-for-service model - local companies pay us to provide financial capability programming to their staffs. We also founded a social enterprise, 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. These two revenue streams provide unrestricted funding.

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?

ESOP is a HUD-approved Housing and Financial Counseling Agency. Our SFEI is comprised of a Director of Financial Counseling with over 20 years of experience working with low-income Ohioans and four Financial Empowerment Coaches with a combined 50 years of experience, all of whom are certified from NHNLA, with a special certification in “Financial Strategies for Older Adults.” All are also certified Ohio Benefit Bank Counselors and Credit Counselors from NeighborWorks Training Institute.

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

Organization name

Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People ("ESOP")

Program Design Clarity

Our innovative service delivery model allows older adults to access: financial education workshops, one-on-one financial counseling/coaching, benefits enrollment, loans for delinquent property taxes, matched savings accounts, free tax preparation, foreclosure prevention and property tax delinquency counseling. We help seniors reduce their debt, develop good savings habits, decrease monthly expenses, increase savings and improve their credit score

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • credit
  • education / literacy
  • loans
  • payment
  • saving
  • other

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

We offer an innovative matched savings account for older adults called LEAP Plus, which stands for "Learn and Earn Account Program for People 55+".

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Since our low-income clients never present with just one problem, ESOP partners with various agencies to ensure that the full spectrum of our clients' needs are met. Two examples include: Legal Aid to enhance our workshop curriculum and to ensure that our clients are aware of their legal rights, and the Hebrew Free Loan Association, to ensure that our clients who are not eligible for mainstream loan products have access to affordable loans to alleviate the financial burdens they are facing.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

We’ll continue to enhance our suite of programs to meet our clients’ needs. For example, we’d like to develop a loan/grant program for accessibility modifications to enable our clients to safely age in place. We’d also continue to invest in our staff’s knowledge and skills with continuing education.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

Selected as a "Commitment to Action" at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative. Winner of 2017 Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award. 2016 Agency of the Year - National Community Reinvestment Coalition. 2017 Project of the Year for JP Morgan Chase Force for Good Competition. 2017 Community Partnership Award from Fifth Third Bank with MetroHealth System.

Evaluation results

3 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! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

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

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 66.7%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 100%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 66.7%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

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 - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%

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1 comment

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Photo of Sarah

Interesting holistic service model and great explanation of community impact!