High finance and earth-shaking deals may get all the glamour when it comes to press coverage of the industry, but the real glory is owed to people like Mellisa Carney, Homecorps coordinator for the South Shore Community Action Council.
Carney’s current role involves coordinating services for families looking to avoid homelessness after facing a foreclosure. Prior to that, she worked for over a decade at Community Action of Cape Cod as a program director, helping low-income people find supportive housing and working to improve financial literacy and help people build nest eggs that would allow them access to homeownership.
Carney herself had received help from the agency when she was a young single mother. “That’s part of what drew me to it, that I wanted to help people who had been in the same situation I was in,” she says today.
“What impresses me about Mellisa is that most people with her knowledge and experience have taken jobs at senior levels in government or the private sector. She keeps working with the people who need her most,” wrote Laura Spark, deputy director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action, who worked with Carney in homelessness prevention, in her nomination for Carney for a Women of FIRE Award.
Working On Prevention
Carney’s quiet persistence and persuasiveness have made her an invaluable advocate for her clients. Spark described one case she had worked with Carney on, with a family in dire financial straits who had missed a rent payment, potentially rendering them ineligible for housing assistance. Even many experienced housing counselors would have examined the situation and said, “Well, you’re beyond the 90 days for filing an appeal, there’s nothing I can do for you,” said Spark. Carney, however, was able to use her extensive contacts and deep knowledge of the eligibility rules to get the family back on the list, without which they would have been on the street within weeks. It’s her ability to advocate for her clients without alienating that makes her such a remarkable skillful counselor, Spark said.
Those are skills Carney hopes to bring to a newly expanded role at South Shore this fall. Carney said she’s excited about the opportunity to develop new programs, and is already planning to launch a financial literacy initiative for teens and young adults, to help them avoid some of the problems that often result in people being placed in a precarious position.
“We want to catch these kids when they’re in middle school, help them before they go off to college and ruin their credit with credit cards,” she said. “[We want to] give them the platform they need to learn about credit and money management as a whole.”
“The reason I got into the field in the first place is because I was grateful for the help I received when I needed it,” Carney said, and it’s that quality in her clients that drives her forward. “I want to help people, and to teach people how to help themselves, to overcome the barriers that keep them in poverty.”