Supporting self sufficiency

Savings program creates opportunity for Minot student

Jill Schramm/MDN Marina Carrillo holds up a dollar as she stands with Orleen Orem of Community Action Partnership. Starting small, Carrillo developed a saving habit through CAP’s Individual Development Account program that is enabling her to participate in an internship to Chile this summer.

Graduating from Minot State University this spring, Marina Carrillo is heading to a summer internship in Chile that she says couldn’t have happened without her North Dakota support.

Carrillo’s story is one of success for the Individual Development Account program of the Minot region’s Community Action Partnership. Although the two-month internship with an energy consulting company covers her food and lodging costs, Carrillo, 39, was able to take advantage of the opportunity because of the matched money in her IDA savings account. That matched money exists because the Roger and Delores Odell Trust Fund came forward when federal and state funds faded, ensuring the IDA program would continue.

“If it wasn’t because of the fund, I wouldn’t be able to go. Period,” said Carrillo, who leaves for her internship this week.

“I also know I am going to be representing a lot of people here and having that on my shoulders. It’s OK for me because I know I can do it,” she said. “North Dakota has the resources. We have good people here. We have good minds and we have hard-working people with a lot of skills. That’s the message I really want to put out there.”

Carrillo graduated in three years from Minot State University in May with two bachelor degrees – in management and in energy, economics and finance. She also holds an associate’s degree from Dakota College at Bottineau as an administrative assistant and in information management.

She connected with the internship opening in Chile through MSU’s Study Abroad program. Energy internships of this type don’t come up often, but with her educational background and language skills in English and Spanish, Carrillo was able to land the plum assignment. She also has some knowledge of Portuguese.

“What I am doing, in reality, is based on teamwork. I would not be here but for North Dakota people coming together with new ideas, with the energy and the programs, putting it together. We didn’t even know each other. That’s the beauty of it,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo had lost her home in the 2011 flood, ended up in a shelter and later found herself at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, where she discovered information on the IDA program. She qualified for the program and opened an account about 2-1/2 years ago.

IDA is a savings program for low- to moderate-income residents. Savings are matched and can be used for college, starting a business or home ownership. Participants also take classes in financial planning and budgeting.

Carrillo said the classes were valuable in helping her understand concepts such as credit scores and personal finance, which remain relevant to her today. The importance of setting aside savings from earned income also became engrained in her.

“It’s like a habit now,” she said. “That helps to be self aware of what you are actually spending. Everything adds up in the end. It’s a lifetime skill that I learned here.”

During her time in the program, she stayed in close contact with Community Action staff.

“They are an advocate for you to accomplish those goals,” she said.

Working in food service and through the college work-study program, she attempted to save $25 a month, although her finances were so challenging that there were months it was impossible to put in quite that much. The program requires consistent saving for six months. Participants are expected to continue saving beyond six months as necessary to reach their goals, but there’s leniency if a deposit is missed or falls below the goal.

No match becomes available until the savings target is hit. In the original program, once $2,000 from earned income was saved, a match of $4,000 became available. However, during the time Carrillo was in the program, the federal funding ended, jeopardizing the accompanying state funding that provided the match for the saved earnings.

Willy Soderholm, CAP executive director in Minot, said the program was facing an uncertain future when he was contacted by a family representative of the Roger and Delores Odell Trust Fund about supporting a program like the IDA.

The trust fund now provides a $4,000 match for savers who set aside $500 with IDA partner First Western Bank for college or to start a business. The trust fund will match $4,000 toward $1,000 in savings for a home purchase. Soderholm said CAP also is working with Habitat for Humanity to help prospective homebuyers in the IDA program achieve home ownership.

Saving $2,000 can be intimidating for many people who are just trying to get on their feet, said Orleen Orem, IDA program specialist with CAP. The revised saving requirement of $500 to $1,000 is more workable, she said.

Soderholm said the structure of the IDA program offered through CAP in Minot is unique in the state.

“We hope this is successful, and so far it has been successful. We hope to be able to expand it,” he said.

Soderholm said the goal is to teach savers to become self sufficient.

“Empowering people to overcome poverty and attain self sufficiency -that’s actually it,” Carrillo agreed. “Education is the best investment because nobody can take that away from you. I can finally say that after all those years, I found myself again. That’s because people here helped me economically, emotionally, physically.”

Knowing people were supporting her encouraged Carrillo to work hard, earn awards and scholarships and achieve her goals. She participated in the campus business clubs, DECA and Phi Beta Lambda, traveling this spring to Washington, D.C., where she received an award of excellence in client service in the DECA competition there. Carrillo has traveled extensively related to her participation in organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and Williston Basin Society of Petroleum Engineers. She had been selected to attend a finance conference in Omaha, Neb., this spring.

Carrillo said going back to school had been intimidating. She knew little about the U.S. education system, having received her previous education in Mexico. She had attended college in Mexico to work toward a communication degree and had worked for media companies in Kansas City before moving to Minot. CAP had assisted her with the cost of CLEP tests for college credits.

Personal and health crises that would have derailed many people didn’t deter Carrillo. Along with her college studies, she completed studies to obtain her U.S. citizenship.

Her parents assisted with her three children as she finished school. The family will be living in Williston while she’s in Chile. Carrillo said she’s committed to returning to North Dakota and expects to locate in Williston, where she already has made potential job contacts.

Carrillo also has a new goal that isn’t about saving but about giving. She wants to get involved in her community to make positive things happen and to let others who are struggling know there are resources.

“I want to be the one to help,” she said.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)

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