ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Aimmy Vang helps former criminals find jobs and turn their lives around. Yet while helping others she is also involved in a program that is helping her get back on solid financial footing.
Vang, a 35-year-old mother of five children ranging in age from eight to 18, participates in a savings and financial planning program sponsored in part by U.S. Federal Credit Union that is getting her on the path toward eventual homeownership.
"I'm eventually going to have a home of my own for me and my children, and that's exciting," she said in an interview at the Eastside Financial Center, a project of U.S. Federal, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Lutheran Social Services.
The program combines access to a range of financial services, such as savings and checking accounts and check-cashing services, with counseling in financial planning.
The center opened in January and since then 282 people have joined the credit union and opened savings accounts, while 222 people have received financial counseling.
Vang, whose financial difficulties spiraled when she had to spend money to help locate her daughter when she disappeared, said the counseling she's received has enabled her to plan more effectively and think about her long-term goals.
She and other participants told their stories at an event held during last week's Republican National Convention a few miles away from the center, which is located in a working class section of the city. The neighborhood has a large population of immigrants, including many Hmong.
Her words pleased Bill Raker, the president/CEO of U.S. Federal, which is headquartered in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville.
"This embodies the values and philosophy of what we are all about."
Two members of Congress--U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Jim Ramstad, both R-Minn--attended the event and praised its success.
"You are giving people a hand up, not a handout. You are empowering people to take control of their own financial security," Ramstad said.
The program's three partners each lend their expertise to the center: U.S. Federal operates a full-service branch with five full-time employees; Thrivent Financial--which operates a similar center in Chicago in conjunction with a bank--contributed more than $2.1 million in start-up costs, including $600,000 for individual development accounts (matched savings accounts for low-income individuals for a new home, new business or education); and Lutheran Social Services is the managing partner of the center and operates its financial education, counseling and mentoring services.