IDA program jumpstarting new Polk businesses

Published 6:21 pm Monday, June 13, 2011

Imagine the government offering you $2,000 so long as you managed to save $1,000 on your own. This could soon be a real possibility for four Polk County residents participating in the Individual Development Account (IDA) program currently coordinated by Western Carolina Community Action.

Maryann Festa serves as the Family Self-Sufficiency/IDA coordinator for WCCA. She said after working as a social worker for 15 years, she knows how difficult it can be for lower income individuals to put food on the table, let alone fund their own start-up costs for a business or pay for college courses.

“You can’t walk into a bank and get 200 percent interest on your savings ever,” Festa said. “Yet, if these people stay committed, they can get that. For the first time in my career this program makes me feel like we can do more than just put a Band-Aid on someone’s life. We can help them move forward.”

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The IDA program is made available through the Office of Community Services in Washington, D.C. and the North Carolina Department of Labor.

Participants in the program commit to save at least $40 a month up to $1,000. If they do so, the program then kicks back a match of $2,000. They can then put that money to use for small business capitalization, education or first time home ownership (a similar program focusing primarily on homeownership is currently seeking applicants).

Three out of the four individuals in this series are seeking to gain capital for businesses, while the fourth wants to save funds to return to college.

Woodworker and carpenter Chris Carroll scrambled after the housing crash a few years ago to find work. He had spent much of his working life building homes and custom items like cabinets and decks. Carroll just recently found himself back in business for himself, creating custom pieces such as furniture, birdhouses and picnic tables.

Getting himself back to work was one thing, but Carroll wants to invest in his neighbors as well. Through the IDA program he hopes to save several thousand dollars to purchase additional equipment and possibly put at least six additional people to work at his shop in Mill Spring.

Aside from keeping busy as the mother of 11 children, Martha Grayber is also an aspiring entrepreneur.

Grayber recently moved from an Amish community where she learned a lot about grinding her own wheat to produce homemade breads. She recently began selling this bread at the PolkFresh farm store at the Mill Spring Agricultural Center. That’s not all Grayber does, though. She fills the rest of her “free time” sewing pillowcase dresses for little girls, crafting purses out of any material she can get her hands on and constantly looking for new creative projects.

“I want to eventually own my own store where I can sell my homemade breads and the various craft items I make,” Grayber said. “I’m always looking for new ideas, too.”

Saving money is not the only requirement for these ambitious business owners, however. Festa said WCCA wants these men and women to become more self-sufficient with regard to money management. So, the program also requires 21 hours of financial literacy classes.

These hours can be obtained by attending regular workshops set up by WCCA and by working with Festa and other professionals to receive credit counseling.

The required workshops include:

A two-part series on “How to be a smart consumer,” taught by Extension Agent Jimmi Buell.

A three-part series on “Manage your money” and a session on “How to improve your credit,” both taught by Diana Winkler.

“Investing basics,” led by Jay Geddings of Edward Jones in Columbus.

“Insurance: What kind? What for? Why do I need it?” led by David Page of Farm Bureau in Columbus.

The community partners committed to teach the classes receive no monetary compensation for doing so, Festa said.

“The only way we can see positive growth is when a community invests in their people,” Festa said.