IDA Program helps client move closer to her goals

Joan Collins moved here from Bloomington, Indiana in 2011 as a member of AmeriCorps’s Teach for America. She made Birmingham her home and is now setting out for her piece of the American Dream.

Part of that dream included going to back to school and earning a master’s degree. “My goal was being able to financially afford school,” said Collins, Human Resources payroll manager at a local hotel. “My graduate school was very expensive and I was really coming to a crossroad in determining whether it was worth going back or not.”

United Way of Central Alabama, through the Individual Development Account Program, gave Collins the boost she needed by matching her savings for graduate school. The IDA provides opportunities for individuals with low-to-moderate income to purchase a first-time home, pay for college or job training or start or expand a small business. Participants benefit through financial skills development, financial coaching, access to financial services and training related to the participant’s primary savings goal.

In addition to going back to school, Collins took advantage of personal coaching through United Way’s IDA program. “With financial counseling, I was able to relieve myself of some of that debt that was negatively affecting my credit score,” she said. “The one-on-one coaching helped as well by keeping me balanced and not spending more than I had. It taught me to save smarter.”

With the IDA, Collins was able to receive up to $4,000 in matching funds from United Way to put towards help her pay for college. “Having a bank where you can establish savings for the IDA program was helpful,” she said. “I was able to put that money away and not touch it.”

Collins is set to graduate in May with an on-line master’s degree in Human Resources Management from Indiana State University. The IDA Program gave her a sense of confidence as she marks yet another accomplishment off her list, but there’s still more to accomplish, she said.

“Completing my Master’s was just a minor goal,” said Collins. “However, the IDA program made that possible by providing the finances and the knowledge as far as making sure it was financially affordable for me as well as giving me lifelong skills to become financially smart.”

To learn more about United Way’s IDA program visit United Way of Central Alabama Inc. supports health and human service programs and agencies that provide solutions for the most important needs in the community. Its business is to improve lives and community conditions by building and mobilizing resources. To learn more about United Way’s impact in your community  visit