A new financial education center at the United Way of Southeast Louisiana headquarters will soon help struggling families get back on their feet by teaching them how to be more financially responsible.
The J. Wayne Leonard Prosperity Center, named after a major donor, is slated to open in December at 2515 Canal St.
Described as a "one-stop financial literacy center," it will be a place where lower-income families can learn how to reduce debt, improve credit and open saving accounts to buy assets like cars or homes.
Kirby Nagle, a spokeswoman for United Way, said the goal is to "empower individuals" by helping them make better financial decisions.
The center will offer workshops and classes, one-on-one financial counseling and help with tax preparation. Families will also get help enrolling for federal and state benefits and advice on how to stop relying on high-cost financial providers, like payday lenders.
Select participants will continue to get access to existing United Way initiatives, including an incentivized savings program that features matching donations.
People who qualify for that program must contribute at least $25 a month for six months, according to Odessa Adams-Payne, United Way's vice president of financial capability. United Way then provides a 4-to-1 match, to a maximum of $6,000.
Like many of the organization's programs, Adams-Payne said, the savings program helps participants by teaching them accountability.
"We're really good at making sure we do not set people up for failure," she said.
Starting in 2018, the center will also be the site of a new partnership with the city's Network for Economic Opportunity, which helps businesses recruit and train local workers.
The first year, the staff will be able to help more than 1,000 participants who will be referred by the city's workforce centers, which provide job training.
A recent United Way report shows about 19 percent of Louisiana households live in poverty.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals earning an annual income of $12,060 or less meet the federal poverty level. A family of four with an annual income of $24,600 or less would also be considered impoverished.
The new center will also help those who qualify as ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Roughly 23 percent of the state's population falls in that category. Even though they're not technically impoverished, those who qualify as ALICE often cannot afford basic expenses such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and taxes.
"There is a clear need for increasing financial capability education in New Orleans," Nagle said.
The center is being named after J. Wayne Leonard, the longest-serving chairman and CEO of Entergy. Over his career, Leonard facilitated more than $50 million in charitable donations. The money helped people climb out of poverty and was used to improve early childhood education.
He's also the newest member of the United Way's Million Dollar Roundtable, a group of donors who have given $1 million contributions.
Earlier this year, Leonard was given the 2017 United Way of Southeast Louisiana Tocqueville Society Award, the organization's highest individual honor.
Leonard, who is battling cancer, said he was focused on the legacy he wanted to leave behind.
"During my own treatments, I have observed firsthand the severe difficulties our low-income residents endure as they go it alone with their health and financial challenges," he told the United Way. "We can do something to positively impact their lives."