Non-profit organization provides financial literacy and life skills to Linden residents

In 2011, three sisters watched residents of their Linden neighborhood struggle to find work as Columbus and the country still felt the effects of the Great Recession of 2008.

Margaret Rembert and Lois and Alice Ferguson have been blessed with careers of their own: Margaret as a client and community manager at the social service organization LifeCare Alliance, Lois as a retired Navy veteran, and Alice as an employee at the Defense Supply Center Columbus.

“People kept asking us questions: ‘How do you get such good jobs?’ and ‘How do you get into management?’ “said Lois, 62.

It was a good question that deserved an answer. So the three began sharing their career prospects with members of the church they were attending at the time, the New Mt. Sinai Church of God in Christ. Eventually, the demand for help grew even greater.

“We said, ‘We have to come up with a program. And we brought it out of the four walls of the church and opened it up to the community.”

The result is the nonprofit Sisters of Empowerment, an organization dedicated to providing economic resources and building self-sufficiency for residents of Linden, a neighborhood that has struggled with poverty, crime, blight and disinvestment. over the years.

“Everyone needs to know how to manage their finances. Everyone needs help finding their job or getting promoted in their job,” said Margaret, 65. “This is such important information that is often overlooked in the African American community.”

In the 11 years since its inception, the organization has held more than 250 free classes and helped more than 1,400 families, according to its website.

Lois teaches many financial management courses, while an employee runs the online finance courses. Meanwhile, Margaret teaches pre-employment classes and Alice takes care of the business side of the association, Lois said.

The organization receives its funding through grants, private funders, and fundraising events. Last year, Sisters of Empowerment received a $25,000 denominational grant through Governor Mike DeWine’s office.

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Breaking generational cycles

Sisters of Empowerment founders Margaret Rembert, left, and Lois Ferguson, right, meet Clarissa Epps, who has taken their financial management course and serves as the organization's secretary.

While Sisters of Empowerment caters to Linden residents, the organization serves all of Franklin County, Lois said.

In addition to job readiness classes, the nonprofit has over time added sessions on financial literacy, home ownership, and life skills, such as cooking and nutrition. , and organizational skills.

Due to the pandemic, however, the sisters are only focusing on their financial empowerment classes at this time. This program typically lasts six months and teaches students savings tips, how to invest, and how to create and maintain a budget. Additionally, if a student saves $600 during the program, Sisters of Empowerment will match the amount, giving them $1,200, Margaret said.

Lois said funding for the program is provided by Jeff Edwards, CEO and President of The Edwards Companies.

“This program is going so well,” she said. “If we can break this generational poverty syndrome that is so prevalent, that would be great.”

Clarissa Epps, who took the Sisters of Empowerment financial management course, is the association's secretary.

Volunteer Clarissa Epps, 33, of northeast Columbus, first heard of the group when she took a finance class with the sisters about five years ago. While taking the course, she was introduced to a financial advisor. She scheduled a free consultation with him, where he was able to go through all of his financial documents.

“Having access to him was because I had taken the course, and so it helped me gain access to other professionals,” Epps said. “So it’s really helpful.”

She took another course two years ago. Even though she didn’t have financial difficulties, she wanted to learn how to manage her money better. Epps said she was able to save the initial $600 and has been saving since completing the course.

“I was able to save over $3,000 from the skills they taught me,” she said. “But it’s also helped me think more seriously about home ownership and how I can definitely get there and the question, ‘How much money do I need to save?’ ‘What should I consider for down payment options?’

An “Empowerment Center”

Since Sisters of Empowerment does not have a permanent space, the sisters travel to different locations in the area near Linden, such as the Northern Lights branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, churches, and recreation centers.

However, they hope to change that soon. The three sisters work to buy a building on Cleveland Avenue in Linden that will eventually become The Empowerment Center.

“So it’s going to be a two-story building,” Lois said. “We will have a cafe, we will have classrooms, we will have meeting rooms.”

Sisters of Empowerment also aims to have a “Linden Business Center” at this location to provide services to entrepreneurs.

Lois said the organization needed to raise $860,000 for the center. To help raise this money, Sisters of Empowerment is hosting a “Roast and Roses” gala Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the SJCC Event Center in Northland, with tickets available at bit.ly/36dt2bm.

Over the past 11 years, Lois and Margaret said they both enjoyed making an impact in Linden and providing service to residents who may not have had many options.

“I know I’m making a difference,” Lois said. “I know it from testimonials, I know it when I watch people get houses that didn’t have one. I know it when people tell me, ‘I saved over $3,000.'”

And the benefits aren’t just for now, Margaret said.

“We’re doing things that are going to help you, not just for the generation we live in now, but for generations to come.”

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Louis R. Hancock