Sunday, October 07, 2001

Smart Money opens headquarters

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Looking at the office, it was hard not to take it all personally.

        The burned and partly melted office copier, the bashed in and ripped out computers and phones, the large metal trash can still in the reception area after someone chucked it through the front window.

        For a brief moment, that day in April, Darrick Dansby and some of the other counselors at Smart Money Community Services began doubting whether they were improving things in Over-the-Rhine and in Greater Cincinnati.

        Smart Money, a nonprofit organization partly funded by the city and United Way, is founded on the premise that if you help people learn how to budget, track their expenses, clean up their debt and regularly sock away savings, you can help them move out of poverty into their own home, small business or career.

        Mr. Dansby, Smart Money's 29-year-old executive director, asked himself how marauders could have targeted the 13-year-old agency. It is linked to the Cincinnati Central Credit Union, the only banking outlet in Over-the-Rhine. It is the source of numerous business and personal loans, financial training and self-help opportunities.

        “Couldn't they tell that Smart Money is here to help?” he wondered.

        After months of repairs and renovations — and a $50,000 repair bill — Smart Money recently celebrated the grand opening of its headquarters at 1731 Vine St. So many business, foundations, volunteers and supporters donated money, time and services that Smart Money only owes about $1,800, Mr. Dansby said.

        “It was a rough couple of months, but now that it's over,” he said.

        “It's behind us ... part of our history. It has shown that we're not going anywhere. We're committed.”

        At the Sept. 27 event, a woman who was helped out of debt and into a home and a man who was helped into a new business cut the ribbon.

        There are more where they came from. So far this year, Smart Money's staff of seven and its volunteers have advised or assisted several hundred families and individuals - rich and poor, black and white, of all incomes and backgrounds.

        More than 251 families received weekly financial counseling. At least 25 families — more than three times last year's total — enrolled in Smart Money's matching savings program. And others who found themselves in dire straits — facing abuse, homelessness, joblessness, or just or over-the-head interest charges from rent-to-own or paycheck lenders, — were able to borrow $38,000 from Smart Money this year.

        About 98 percent of Smart Money's borrowers, Mr. Dansby said, are paying the loans back on time.

        Mr. Dansby said he'd like to thank many for their help, including Franciscan Home Development, the Free Store Food Bank, the Ohio Credit Union League, Bank One and the Mutual Benefit Credit Union.

        But even their outpouring of appreciation doesn't mean Mr. Dansby is ready to take any chances.

        The night that Cincinnati police officer Stephen Roach was acquitted of shooting Timothy Thomas, Mr. Dansby camped out in his office, turning on lights and computers, opening his blinds.

        “I stayed down here until 3 o'clock the next morning,” he said. “It was the night before the open house, and I couldn't go through that again.”


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