Leadership Training Institute in Hempstead teaches skills to financially get ahead
Knowledge of key financial principles could have saved Tamara Simpson from mistakes that got her even deeper into debt, forcing her to postpone plans to buy a home. And better information about the home buying process could have saved Janine Ellis-Davidson years of frustration.
But with the guidance of a team of experts at the Leadership Training Institute, a nonprofit organization in Hempstead, Ellis-Davidson and her husband were able to buy a home in East Meadow last summer, after renting a one-bedroom apartment in a Hicksville home for six year.
And Simpson, who lives in Deer Park, also in an apartment in a house, with her husband and two college-age children, said they’ve cut a lot of debt, and can now “see the light at the end of the tunnel vision based on how the program taught me how to do the finances.”
Both women are participating in a new Institute program called STEP – or Skills and Techniques to Economic Progress – which is focused on bringing financial literacy and strategies to the income of low- and moderate-income residents in the Island’s Black communities.
WHAT TO KNOW The Skills and Techniques for Economic Advancement (STEP) program targets low- and moderate-income residents in Long Island’s Black communities. The program is funded with a $100,000 grant from the Long Island Racial Equity Donor Collaborative that seeks to address social and economic exclusion. Tuition includes career guidance and one-on-one coaching on cash flow, budgeting and debt solutions.
The Institute’s program is funded with a $100,000 grant from the Long Island Racial Equity Donor Collaborative at the Long Island Community Foundation. The collaboration’s goal, officials said, is to address “the ongoing social and economic exclusion of Black Long Islanders” that they say has led to “deep-rooted racial disparities on Long Island.”
Blacks were denied the chance to build wealth
“This is a program that addresses the racial wealth gap,” said Frantz LeGrand, the institute’s project director. “It’s important to understand that the racial wealth gap is not necessarily due to what people do.” Rather, he said, there are racial inequalities built into some societal systems.
Leadership Training Institute president and CEO Aster Mehreteab and Pamela Parkes, who is a financial coach. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.
“We understand that after the war [World War II]certain whites were given opportunities to get homes that increased in value,” LeGrand said, referring to government home loan programs that benefited white returning soldiers but were not always available to blacks. As a result, he said, whites who were able to buy homes that used public assistance, saw those homes increase in value over decades, building wealth for their families. “Blacks couldn’t get it.”
And then, LeGrand continued, there were “systemic racist policies, where you could have the same credit score, the same income, but Blacks would get a higher interest rate, which sometimes precludes them from buying a home. It’s systemic. What we what we do is we cut through it with solid programs through entrepreneurship, financial literacy, analytics [and] workforce development strategies.”
Aster Mehreteab, president and CEO of the institute, said workforce development is “vital” to help participants who have a specific need to increase their income to reach their goals.
This means that some program participants are referred to the workforce development team to learn ways to boost their income which for some may mean starting their own businesses. And the institute has experts to help guide them through it.
“When we meet the individuals one-on-one, we see what their goals are, what their needs are, what they want to get out of this program, and everything else is driven by that,” said Pamela Parkes, the program’s financial coach. said. . “When they have one-on-one coaching, we go through all the foundations of finances: cash flow, budgeting, debt solutions.”
Looking for houses for sale
Several participants had a goal of buying a house.
By the time Ellis-Davidson, 50, a senior pricing analyst for a security alarm manufacturer, came to the Leadership Training Institute in April 2022, she and her husband had spent two fruitless years trying to buy a house. She said they often never got callbacks from sellers, or didn’t receive responses to their offers. They were also frustrated by the real estate agent they worked with.
Ellis-Davidson said that while she had already raised her credit score before joining the program, “Coming to LTI gave me more insight into the different areas [of Long Island]the tax brackets, and how my finances needed to be to prepare to buy a home.”
Simpson, 45, an insurance broker, said her sessions with Parkes were not only revelatory from a practical point of view, but also gave her hope.
Simpson said she racked up $80,000 in debt through credit cards and a $40,000 loan. But under the guidance of Parkes and her team, Simpson said the debt was cut to $56,000 in less than a year.
Parkes said Simpson only pays the minimum on her credit card balances, thinking it would be sufficient to keep up with the payments alone and focus on cards with the lowest balances. However, she said the better strategy is to pay off the cards with the highest interest rates.
Simpson said Parkes “taught us how to use the same income … to pay the bills and still put money away in the bank. And when we do that, we start to see savings come in.”
Simpson said she teaches her children about the financial principles she learned at the institute. She told them, “This is how we’re going to achieve a better life financially because now we have the tools to see what we can do and how we can save money and not go with high interest rates.”