The Ripple Effect

The Ripple effect

Posted on September 16, 2015 

By Stephanie Jadrnicek

The Journal

SENECA — It only takes one pebble to ripple an entire pond. Ripple of One, a nonprofit based in Oconee County, works on this principle.

Val McDowell, left, enjoys spending time with her Ripple of One mentor, Grace Ayres.

The group’s mission is to “empower families to move beyond government assistance and into their full God-given potential.” An initiative of United Way, 90 percent of the organization’s funds come from community members and local businesses.

Stephanie Enders, executive director of the nonprofit, said there is a growing problem in the U.S. and in Oconee County — many low-income families are becoming dependent on government assistance and are struggling to become self-sufficient.

“The structure of government subsidies makes it challenging for many families to get off of assistance,” Enders said. “But the Ripple of One model is working. Our families are becoming self-sufficient, finding their talents and are thinking higher than living on assistance.”

The nonprofit is hosting its Denim and Diamonds on Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. The dinner and silent auction fundraiser at The Lighthouse Event Center in Seneca will feature Congressman Gresham Barrett as a guest speaker.

Enders started Ripple of One in 2010 after 15 years of volunteering in homeless shelters and five years of mentoring to low-income families.

“The more families I mentored, the more common threads I discovered,” she said. “One thread was that the clients didn’t realize they had talents and gifts they weren’t using. They felt stuck, with little incentive to move out of their current situation. Most couldn’t imagine a life beyond being dependent on the government or churches.”

She knew mentoring was key, but felt that people needed a bridge to help them create a life of stability. So she added some extra elements — financial coaches, monthly rewards and paid internships.

Each family is assigned a mentor and a team of individuals to help the family discover their gifts. One member of the team is a financial coach who meets with the family on a monthly basis and helps the family create a budget and savings account.

As an incentive, Ripple of One offers monthly rewards to families who reach their education, financial or health goals — along with a savings match of up to $200 per month.

Enders said the paid internships are one of the most important pieces to the program. The nonprofit partners with local businesses to provide on-the-job training and networking opportunities, while paying the clients minimum wage for their work.

All of the incentives piece together to form a powerful motivator. Enders has watched her clients’ minds shift while they’re working in an environment that nurtures their passion.

“The clients became ‘on fire’ to get ahead and reach their career goals,” she said. “After about a year in our program, our participants start to act differently and think differently about their money. They become proud to pay off debts and feel that dead weight coming off their shoulders.”

Val McDowell is one of Ripple’s many success stories. A single mother since the age of 15, McDowell was raising her two children in subsidized housing. She had lost nearly all of her teeth due to a genetic illness, and with only a 10th-grade education, no license and no job, McDowell’s future looked bleak. When she first met with her Ripple team, she established two main goals — get her GED and get out of government housing.

“Three years later, Val long surpassed her initial goals. She’s now a semester away from finishing a college degree in applied science,” Enders said. “Val saved her money, and with the Ripple match paid her fines to get her license back and bought a used car. She’s depended on rides for nearly four years and finally has her independence.”

Even with McDowell’s many successes, her journey has been long and challenging. About one year ago her oldest son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at the age of 16.

“I felt like someone punched me in the stomach,” McDowell said. “Like my life was caving in.”

Her schooling and work abruptly came to a halt and her Ripple team regrouped their support system. Instead of financial coaching, they established a schedule to bring McDowell regular meals and visit with her and her son at the hospital.

After her son’s two sessions of chemotherapy, her son’s tumor is gone and she’s ready to return to school.

Now McDowell is registering to complete her final semester of college and she recently received a job as a recruitment specialist at a local staffing company in Seneca. She’s working with her Ripple financial coach on her savings plan so she can graduate from Ripple with $5,000 in her savings account.

McDowell is out of government housing. She received the Self-Sufficiency Award from U.S. Department of Housing and accepted an award in Columbia in front of a crowd of more than 600 people.

“I want to shout it out to the roof tops about what Ripple has done for me and my family,” McDowell said.

And her biggest motivator — to return as a mentor after graduating for Ripple of One so she can impact the life of another struggling parent.

For more information on Ripple of One, call (864) 710-9565. For Denim and Diamonds tickets, call (864) 985-2230 or visit rippleofone.nationbuilder.com/fundraiser_2015.

stephanie@upstatetoday.com | (864) 973-6686