Congratulations to Cherie Parker, the very first graduate of the Project BRIDGE Program! Together with our staff, volunteer financial mentor Elaine Wenger and other volunteers, Cherie has worked hard for more than a year to get a handle on her budget, get some big expenses under control and start saving so that she and her family can have a better financial future. We are so proud of her success!
“I learned that I can set goals and stick to a plan. I learned that I can set a budget and live by one.” – Cherie Parker, Project BRIDGE Graduate
Food Bridge Manager Chris Garris, Project BRIDGE graduate Cherie Parker, volunteer Financial Mentor Elaine Wenger and ODB Financial Literacy Manager Marcelle Miles at Cherie’s graduation celebration in December.
Cherie is a single mom who lives in Western Fairfax. When she was referred to us for food assistance last year, she was struggling with financial issues that many of the families we serve are experiencing: managing the high cost of rent and food on one income along with medical bills and other debts. As our Food Bridge Program Manager Chris Garris got to know her, she thought she would be an ideal candidate for our Financial Mentoring Program. Cherie met with our Financial Literacy Program Manager Marcelle Miles, who eventually connected her with one of our volunteer Financial Mentors, Elaine Wenger. Around that same time, ODB was starting up a pilot program called Project BRIDGE, which focuses all of our services to help select clients in an intensive manner as they work to achieve and maintain true financial self-sufficiency. Cherie met the requirements for the program, and demonstrated that she had the determination to really do the hard work needed to succeed.
Over the last year, Cherie and Elaine worked together to develop a realistic household budget that Cherie would adhere to and a plan for her to begin paying off debts, while also saving money. Project BRIDGE clients receive food and financial assistance in addition to mentoring services to help ease some of their financial burdens while they’re working toward meeting their goals. She also participated in our Matched Savings Program. ODB helped her set up a savings account, and after she saved $500, ODB gave her a matching grant of $500 to build an emergency fund. ODB also connected her with local attorney and ODB volunteer Shannon Taylor Warren, who provided some pro bono legal advice and career advice. Cherie also received Holiday assistance for her family, and received a special grant from a local group called Womenade that occasionally provides a grant to an ODB client to make a special purchase. Cherie and her mentor used the grant to purchase professional clothes to help Cherie polish her professional image. Womenade also collected professional clothes from their members, which were donated to Cherie to round out her wardrobe.
Marcelle noted how hard Cherie worked to achieve and even surpass her goals for the program. “Cherie was dedicated to meeting with her mentor, and took very seriously the budgetary items they were working on together. In addition, she had some housing, health and family issues to deal with during the earlier part of their mentoring relationship. She also advocated for herself to receive housing assistance from the County. She has challenged herself to save, joined her 401K and is looking toward the future – that is huge.”
Cherie said, “The program has wonderful resources for assistance. I found that having Elaine as a financial mentor was beneficial. She had ideas and a plan of action to assist me with a budget for week to week spending where I had a difficult time making ends meet. I struggled for quite some time with anxiety over my financial insecurity and that has since eased by 75%. The Food Program was an awesome resource, as I did not have a vehicle and was having difficulty making ends meet. The program enabled me to begin to get back on my feet by starting a savings account and getting some bills taken care of.” When asked what she would tell other BRIDGE aspirants, she said, “Be honest with yourself and your mentors about the help that is needed and always stay open to ideas. The situation that led you to the program more than likely did not happen overnight and neither will rebuilding; be patient.”
Elaine said, “Cherie has been determined to improve her situation to the extent possible, given her circumstances. In her past, she had a taste of a better life, and she has been willing to try different paths in order to regain control of areas in which she is able to control. By setting up a budget that included her chief monthly expenses and making frugal, smart choices, she began to realize she could save a small portion of each of her weekly paychecks to create a cushion in the event of unexpected expenses, some of which have arisen from her past and with her college-age son. Because she has been an industrious and thoughtful employee, her employer has promoted her more than once during the time we have worked together. Her efforts to take the necessary steps toward a better life situation have been very gratifying to me as a mentor.”
We are so proud of Cherie, and very grateful to Elaine and all of our Financial Literacy volunteers, who dedicate their time to helping our neighbors move forward! As Our Daily Bread begins our 30th year serving the Fairfax community, we are striving to better coordinate our services to provide a bridge from need to empowerment that will help those in our community who are struggling truly achieve financial independence. We currently have 11 other Fairfax County area residents in the Project BRIDGE program, and we are looking to expand and improve the program based on what we are learning from our work with the present BRIDGE participants.
Project BRIDGE’s start-up was made possible through a grant from the Ruth and Hal Launders Charitable Trust. If you or your organization would like to support Project BRIDGE by providing a sponsorship or donating a service that will help our BRIDGE clients as they work toward achieving their goals, contact Sally Meyer at 703-273-8829.