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Financial Empowerment Center Helps City's Poorest Climb Out of Debt

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NY1 continues its coverage of Brooklyn Week with a look at poverty in the borough and what one city agency is trying to do about it. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

For those living in poverty, taking control of their finances may seem like an impossible task.

For Courtanie Sanders, though, a moment came when she said, 'Enough is enough.'

"I'm tired of being able to have the creditors, you know, call me and me not want to answer the phone," Sanders says.

The Bedford Stuyvesant native googled, "Free financial advice NYC" and found the city's Office of Financial Empowerment. There, she met Ideste Severin.

"Ideste Severin changed my life, Sanders says.

Severin is the program manager for the Financial Empowerment Center that operates out of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. She says all problems are solvable over time.

"Some problems you can solve immediately. It means a counselor picking up the phone and calling a creditor. It may also mean maybe it takes a three-year time period of working with that client to really turn around their lives financially," says Severin, who is Program manager for Financial Empowerment Center at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Of the 30 Financial Empowerment Centers located throughout the city, six are in Brooklyn.

"Brooklyn has the second highest poverty rate in the city of New York at approximately 23.3 percent," Community Affairs Department Commissioner Julie Menin,

That's the average, too. In Bed Stuy, it's 27 percent. Brownsville's average is 30 and East New York's is 33 percent.

Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin says it's vital that residents in communities most in need know about the centers and the work being done there.

"We help people to consolidate their debt, to come up with with a budget, to build their credit scores, and savings for the future," says Menin.

To that end, the department has launched a new subway campaign. The ads feature real clients—Sanders among them.

"I was able to pay off $10,000 worth of my debt. I was able to increase my credit score by like, I think it was close to 100 points. I was also able to get my first apartment," Sanders says.

She encourages others who feel overwhelmed to take the first step and seek help. Severin agrees.

"Don’t hide. Don’t sit at home thinking there’s nothing that could possibly be done about my finances," Severin says.

For more information or to find a center near you call 311 or visitnyc.gov.

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