Today, the City of Akron and United Way of Summit County hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Akron Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) in Kenmore. Located at 1060 Kenmore Blvd., the facility is the first in Summit County to offer professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a free public service.
The new facility employs three professionally trained coaches who deliver ongoing financial counseling. Available to all Summit County residents regardless of income, counseling sessions will focus on helping residents develop the skills to create a budget, save, pay down debt and improve credit scores.
The FEC is also home to United Way of Summit County’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free tax preparation services to individuals with yearly household incomes of $60,000 or below during tax season. VITA volunteers are also available throughout the year to help clients file back taxes. Under state and federal law, individuals who qualify for a tax refund are not penalized for filing late.
The FEC will also help connect locals to safe and affordable banking services through United Way’s Bank On Rubber City initiative. With 33.5 percent of Akron residents either unbanked or underbanked, access to low-cost financial services will be key to helping clients build and maintain financial security.
The Financial Empowerment Center was made possible through a series of collaborations across the local community and with the national Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund. Last year, CFE awarded the City of Akron with a $20,000 grant to launch financial empowerment work in Summit County. Then, in September, Huntington Bank donated its recently closed branch building in Kenmore to United Way of Summit County. In the months since, United Way has worked closely with the City to staff the FEC and prepare the center for clients.
In preparation for the Center’s opening, United Way and the City of Akron have spent the past nine months working through implementation strategies, including renovating the former Huntington Bank branch, convening an Advisory Committee of community partners for informed and collaborative decision-making, hiring and training financial coaches, and meeting and formalizing partnerships with coordinating agencies.
“Our goal is to improve the financial health of our community,” said Mayor Horrigan. “In order for greater Akron to truly thrive, we need to have an empowered and fiscally healthy population. Access to trustworthy and free financial services should be a public right, and this center is the first step in making that goal a reality. I’m thrilled to partner with United Way of Summit County on such an important and catalytic project. I hope our community partners continue to step up and coordinate their services with what the FEC can offer.”
The FEC directly supports United Way’s Bold Goals, which seek to improve key conditions in the local community by 2025. According to a United Way study, 40 percent of Summit County households and 57 percent of Akron households earn less than Ohio’s basic cost of living. For its Bold Goal #3, United Way is working to financially empower 11,000 Akron residents, especially those who are working, but who are struggling to get traction financially.
“This is an important moment for our community,” said Jim Mullen, United Way president and CEO. “This center will help empower more than just the individuals that pass through its doors. It will be key to the financial empowerment of Summit County as a whole. Because when working families have the tools they need to grow, to thrive and to reinvest in their community, that’s a win for everyone.”
To learn more, visit uwsummit.org/fec. Call 2-1-1 to schedule a financial coaching or VITA appointment.