By Barry Eberling
FAIRFIELD — Brenda McPeek’s washing machine broke down and she needed to learn how to manage her money to save enough for a replacement.
She got help from SparkPoint, a new United Way program at the Family Resource Center at Cleo Gordon Elementary School.
McPeek lives with her in-laws along with her husband and two children. Her husband has a job with NAPA Auto Parts, so the family had some money to work with if they could only change some habits and save.
“I knew how to do it, but I didn’t have anyone telling me I could do it,” McPeek said.
During tough financial times, the anti-poverty program offers people such things as classes on managing finances and advice on how to get jobs.
McPeek found out about SparkPoint and took a financial education workshop. She got the motivation she needed to do such things as stop having the family eat dinner at McDonald’s several nights a week and start cooking with Hamburger Helper instead. Eating out seemed convenient amid the sometimes-hectic pace of family life, but it also proved to be a money-eater.
The McPeeks saved enough money to team up with McPeek’s in-laws and buy an $800 washer. They saved enough money to send McPeek and the children to Texas to see her family.
It took sacrifices, such as McPeek’s husband working overtime. Then the McPeeks fell back into their old habits.
“We were eating out again, not eating at home,” she said.
She needed some reinforcement. She went back to the SparkPoint class.
“It’s a life change,” said Maria Gabbart of SparkPoint. “Just because you do it once or twice, you’re not home free.”
Danielle McCleary lost her job and moved from Livermore to Fairfield a year ago with her children to live with her sister. She needs a job.
“It’s rough out there,” McCleary said. “The economy is so rough.”
SparkPoint gives her such help as working with her on her resume and giving her job interview tips.
“It’s just the support, the extra support,” McCleary said.
McCleary wants a clerical job. She is five classes short of getting a business administration degree from California State University, East Bay and she plans to pursue this.
United Way has established eight SparkPoint centers in the Bay Area, including the Fairfield center and one in Vallejo. The centers deliver some existing services in different ways and introduce some new ones.
“Because the economic times are so horrible, we decided we’re going to start doing things differently,” said Aimee Durfee of United Way.
Launching the new program cost a couple of million dollars, she said.
“We’ve taken a hit like everyone else has,” Durfee said. “But we’ve made this a priority.”
And United Way has received help. For example, Travis Credit Union helps with the free financial education workshops. The Family Resource Center provides the site in a portable building at Cleo Gordon Elementary School.
Solano County’s two SparkPoint centers have served more than 60 families since March. The goal is to help families escape poverty and establish lasting financial security.
According to United Way, a family with two adults and two school-age children needs to earn $64,949 annually to be economically self-sufficient in Solano County, a 19 percent increase from 2008. Health care, housing and child care costs have all increased sharply over the past three years.
Call 421-3963 to learn more about the Fairfield SparkPoint center.