Florida Community Bank (FCB), the Women's Foundation of Southwest Florida Inc. and United Way of Collier County recently teamed up, launching a pilot program to educate low-income Southwest Florida women via “Becoming Economically Successful Together” (B.E.S.T.).
Funded equally by a $100,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant with matching non-federal funds promised from donors and corporate underwriters, B.E.S.T. targets working women earning low to moderate paychecks with the goal of teaching savings strategies. The HHS grant was coordinated through the government agency’s Assets for Independence Program.
“Florida ranks in the bottom third nationally among women 25 years and older holding at least a bachelor's degree,” FCB’s VP Nancy Merolla, who chairs the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida Board, said. “Meanwhile, we know that education is the key to higher paying jobs and financial security for women and their families.”
FCB has pledged $20,000 toward matching funds and will serve as the savings institution for the program participants. As the women save money, they will be awarded matching amounts to pay for training or education. One institution committed to the process is Hodges University, whose president Donald Wrothan praised the community-oriented financial incentive.
“Hodges maintains a deep expertise in serving the educational needs of students in the region who seek improved career prospects and personal growth, and this program is well aligned with that mission," said Wrothan said.
“This first-of-its-kind grant in the history of Southwest Florida will allow corporations, government agencies and nonprofits to partner together to make this pilot project successful in creating a network that allows women and girls in Southwest Florida to thrive through education — this is both empowering for them and exciting for us,” FCB’s Merolla said.
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