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ESOP - Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People

On Monday, October 26th, we attended the attended the 2015 annual ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People) luncheon held at the Ariel Center on East 40th Street. Mr. Carlos Chavez, Board President, started the program off by praising ESOP's long and rich history. Indeed, it started more than 20 years ago in a church basement and now has multiple offices across Ohio. He credited the "passion and determination" of its founder, Ms. Inez Killingsworth for planting the seeds for its success. Ms. Roslyn A. Quarto, Executive Director, talked about how ESOP has helped thousands of Ohioan families avoid foreclosure but even though this is still a problem the time has come to address other issues. She went on to cite ESOP's Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative which helps seniors find/maintain financial stability. Along these lines, a small loan program has been established by ESOP to help those over age 55 pay their property taxes. ESOP Realty has also been created which helps low-moderate income home buyers find homes that they can afford or are within their reach. More recently, land was broken on a single family rehab project in Collinwood and the classes dealing with financial coaching (for individuals and for groups) are being blended into a workforce development program at Towards Employment. (When we first arrived we talked to Ms. Sonya Edwards, Director of Financial Counseling for ESOP, who told us that her organization is definitely broadening its range by expanding its bilingual services program especially in the counseling area.) Ms. Quarto then introduced the keynote speaker, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, as a strong advocate for housing for families. Ms. Quarto described the senator as someone who both "walked the walk and talked the talk" and noted that he was able to secure, through President Obama, $570 million for housing assistance in Ohio. Senator Brown discussed the pain and psychological burden that a family undergoes when their home is foreclosed upon. He wished that the political and financial leaders who had any control over the foreclosure process would follow President Lincoln and Pope Francis' example by actually talking to people faced with losing their homes and making an effort to understand their problems. He praised the efforts of groups like ESOP which provide financial counseling to families before they purchase homes because research has shown that such practices really do help. Senator Brown said that unfortunately the housing situation does not often get attention that it deserves on the national level; he recalled that in her book, "Nickel and Dimed" Ms. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that during the 2000 election neither Vice President Gore or Governor Bush mentioned housing once during their many speeches. Later in the program awards were given to Ms. Jane Fumich, Director of the Department of Aging for the City of Cleveland and Mr. Rob Hilton, President and CEO of the MacGregor Foundation, for their contributions to the community, especially regarding the welfare of senior citizens who are very vulnerable on the housing front. We left thinking of Senator Brown's closing remarks wherein he mentioned a conversation that he once had with U.S. Congressman John Lewis who was a civil rights activist before he became an elected official. Congressman Lewis had recalled that, as a boy, he notice the "Whites Only" signs dealing with accommodations. He asked his parents and his grandparents about this who both told him to keep quiet and "don't make trouble" but, later on, he met both Ms. Rosa Parks and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who told his that sometimes it was necessary to make "good and necessary trouble" and Senator Brown thought this this was a good lesson for us all. We think that it was appropriate for Senator Brown to say this at this gathering because we know that ESOP has sometimes challenged the hierarchy but this was done constructively and, as we learned today, the results have affected many worthy people in a positive way.