On the heels of a tumultuous 2020—during which we experienced the culmination of systems-level racial, economic, and environmental inequities being laid bare—the nation is entering 2021 with new federal leadership, in both the White House and Congress.
But as we witness the depth to which the nation’s democratic process is being undermined—both by complicit members within Congress, and by domestic terrorists—we recognize that there is much work to be done to counter the impact of misinformation at all levels of government.
At a time when the country is reeling from disasters, it is incumbent on each of us to advocate for equitable, just outcomes—at both the systems and community levels.
“Today’s events in our nation’s Capitol are unsettling,” said Arellana Cordero, Prosperity Works’ President & CEO. “We’re grateful to all who are advocating for equity and justice, and for those that put themselves in peril to protect our nation through today’s violence. Prosperity Works joins our fellow partners in progress in pursuing unifying, equitable solutions as we all work together to rebuild our communities.”
Prosperity Works remains in solidarity with our neighbors who are put most at risk by these violent acts and proclamations—specifically Black, Indigenous, People of Color households. Our fight for equity and justice continues.
As Prosperity Works pivots into 2021 and assesses community needs, we have identified how we can adapt to meet growing resource requests from our network of statewide, community-embedded partners and reach more rural communities with our asset-building initiatives. To this end, during the first months of 2021, we'll be unveiling a phased approach about how we'll be responding to community needs.
Within the context of COVID-19 and its affiliated economic fallout, we've been consistently reminded of Prosperity Works' founding tenet: navigating life without assets is challenging and unpredictable--and exacerbated by systemic racial inequities. Assets help stabilize families, enhance household health, increase agency, and strengthen communities. With the inextricable linkages between racial and economic inequities laid bare--even more pointedly over the course of 2020--we've recognized that it is incumbent on us as an organization to explicitly name the barriers that prevent limited-income (LI) New Mexico households from achieving socioeconomic prosperity.
As we did when Prosperity Works was founded over 20 years ago, we also hold this guiding truth: prosperity for all New Mexicans cannot be brought to fruition without changing systems, attitudes, and behaviors. And we continue to believe that direct, high-impact investments in hardworking, committed individuals and families are the best investment you can make.
So, as we forecast the work that needs to be done in 2021 to support LI communities, we remain steadfast in our dedication to do so intentionally and authentically--with our proactively innovative, community-centered solutions cast through an intergenerational, intersectional lens that centers racial equity.
Together, we will ensure 2021 is a year where we make concerted headway toward closing the health and wealth gaps in New Mexico--gaps that the pandemic and its economic downturn have widened exponentially. But we will bridge those daunting gulfs together--through innovative, asset-focused solutions that seek to rebuild the identity and cultural anchors communities have lost, and to incubate and cultivate contingents of changemakers galvanized to effect meaningful, lasting, equitable change alongside their neighbors.
Started in 2014, Prosperity Kids combines CSAs with personal, social, and financial support for the whole family, ensuring that children from limited-income New Mexico households make it out of poverty and into postsecondary education, and are equipped with the financial literacy skills and resources they need to craft a successful future. In collaboration with area schools and partner banks and credit unions, Prosperity Works ensures that children have equitable access to the Prosperity Kids program. As one of the first children to enroll in Prosperity Kids through both Washington Middle School and Southwest Capital Bank, Valencia remembers her first trip to Southwest Capital Bank with her Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher and cohort.
“They were all so welcoming and everyone was excited to meet us,” she said. “It felt good having extra support helping me get to college. Opening the account was, like, now I had what I need to plan for college. I could talk about it like it was really happening.”
Research shows that children enrolled in a CSA program are four to six times more likely to attend some form of postsecondary education. Prosperity Kids not only teaches kids about the importance of money management in saving for their respective futures, but the program also requires parents to complete 10 weeks of financial literacy and parent-child development education. This basis in socio-financial literacy encourages household fiscal health and inculcates a money management mentality—an invaluable mindset that will transition with children into adulthood
For Arellana Cordero, Prosperity Works’ President & CEO, Valencia’s withdrawal from Prosperity Kids is deeply personal. A fervent believer in Prosperity Works’ mission of supporting local communities statewide, Cordero—the former Chief Financial Officer at Southwest Capital Bank—brought Prosperity Kids to the bank in 2015. Even more fittingly, Ms.Cordero also attended Washington Middle School, which has always held a special place in her heart.
“I’ve always believed in helping equip people, especially youth, with the tools they need to be financially successful—to lay a strong foundation in financial capability and wellness, on which they can build life goals,” Cordero said. “So, being able to bring the Prosperity Kids Program to both Southwest Capital and Washington Middle School is a full-circle moment for me.”
For Valencia, who plans to major in biology and later attend medical school, her college track also affords her an opportunity to explore her other passions like French culture and dance.
Due to pandemic-related academic schedule restructuration, Valencia, like many college-bound students, will be experiencing a different first semester of college life. Regardless, with her driven attitude and solid financial footing through Prosperity Kids, Valencia is ready to excel and to embrace the opportunities of her next chapter.
“I look forward to a new independence, and living and experiencing college life. There are so many people to meet and a variety of new opportunities.”
6 years in the making, Valencia’s success through Prosperity Kids is the first of many exciting stories Prosperity Works will welcome as program graduates begin to withdraw their funds to help write their next life chapters.
“I am thrilled to have Estefania as the first of many graduates from the Prosperity Kids program. With so many families facing financial insecurity right now, this savings and financial education program is more important than ever to protect and educate the next generation.” Arellana Cordero, CEO of Prosperity Works.
About Prosperity Kids:
Prosperity Works’ Prosperity Kids CSAs are matched college savings accounts for limited-income households. Parents must complete 10 weeks of financial literacy and parent-child development education. Each CSA is opened with a $100 deposit by Southwest Capital Bank, and deposits are matched 1:1—up to $200 per year until they graduate high-school. Depending on the age at which a child enrolls in Prosperity Kids, they have the opportunity to graduate high school with $5,000 or more in savings for postsecondary education.
Do CSAs really work?
Children who enroll in and leverage their CSAs are:
This year, we told you about Phase One of Energy Work and our partnership with PNM to help low-income homeowners improve their energy efficiency. Phase One consisted of upgrading lighting, power strips, aerators, and weather stripping on windows and doors in 50 homes. Of those 50 homes, 35 also qualified to receive new refrigerators at no cost.
Additional work in those homes has begun with a focus on gas efficiency and safety by upgrading hot water heaters, furnaces, and providing whole-house insulation. This work was slated to begin in mid-March just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in New Mexico and our partner, Central New Mexico Housing had to close. They are now operational, and the parent leaders at the Partnership for Community Action are busy getting them into the installation queue.
The need for this work is more important than ever, and so far we have completed 100 of the 300 homes planned for this year. In order to qualify for these services at no cost, residents must have a household income that falls under 200% of poverty or about $44,000 for a family of four. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed financial inequalities that have been evident to us for years. Now with many of these families experiencing job and income losses, the cost reduction that comes with energy efficiency retrofits could not be more important. Once both gas and electric work has been completed, families will see a reduction in their utility bills of up to 50%.
All of this work could not be completed without Prosperity Works’ partnerships with the Partnership for Community Action, PNM, and Central New Mexico Housing. Funding has been provided by the New Mexico Zone Grant Funders and the Turner and Energy Foundations. We believe that the business model that we have created to reach those most in need may be replicated statewide, and is critical to reaching the state’s climate goals.
With many New Mexicans living at or below the poverty line, we must do all we can to ease their financial burden, and open new pathways for opportunities for them and their families. Stay up to date with our ongoing energy work by following on Facebook and Twitter.
As I conclude week one of my journey with this incredible group of people here at Prosperity Works, we are in one of the toughest times in our country's history. We are continuing to battle a deadly pandemic and the resulting economic havoc while, again, coming face-to-face with the long-term effects of racial injustice.
I am honored to carry on the work and mission of Ona Porter and the Prosperity Works TEAM. I read the following excerpt from the Aspen Institute and found it really resonated with me and found it in line with the Prosperity Works mission and strategic plan:
People’s financial well-being rests on three pillars:
These are the building blocks of financial security, and without all three of them, America won’t have a financially secure and healthy population. The racial disparities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis show the inequities in health that so tragically mirror the disparities in financial wellbeing. Now, more than ever, we commit to continuing our efforts to address this disparity and improve financial equity. The work we do here at Prosperity Works will serve this purpose and I will be hyper-focused on root causes along with systemic and institutional changes. With the three pillars above in mind, we will GROW EXISTING PROGRAMS, BRING CHANGE THROUGH OUR ADVOCACY WORK, STRENGTHEN OUR FUND DEVELOPMENT, ALL WHILE BEING INNOVATIVE AND OPEN-MINDED. We will embrace technology to build capacity and grow our organization.
The passion and hard work you contribute to this mission will be a powerful force for lasting change and will tear down systemic economic barriers for New Mexican families. We exist to make this a reality and feel it is unleashed when all people -- regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income, religion, culture, sexual orientation or place of origin, have the opportunity to shape their own future. With the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, which is disproportionately impacting communities of color, we must and will continue our fervent pursuit of a more just society. This effort is reflective of Prosperity Works’ broader view that we must continue to be an important player in the communities we are a part of, especially those hardest hit. Together we will build a more diverse and resilient local economy for a post-COVID-19 future by removing barriers for all New Mexicans in order to create generational change. Just as important, it includes committing the company I lead down a path of systemic, permanent change in as many ways as we can find.
With gratitude and hope,
Prosperity Works Staff