Life-Changing Aspire Partnership Celebrates Six Graduates

Life-Changing Aspire Partnership Celebrates Six Graduates

On Saturday, May 14, the first class of Aspire, a Mobility Mentoring®-Informed Partnership led by Women United of United Way of South Hampton Roads, celebrated their graduation at the Landmark Center. Among their family and friends, six women marked the successful completion of a three-year journey to self-sufficiency. Together they collectively achieved over 250 goals, paid off $33,780 in debt, raised their credit scores by 589 points and raised their annual income by $84,163. One graduate is now debt free, one launched a new business and one bought her first home.

Launched and funded in 2019 by Women United, a leadership society of United Way of South Hampton Roads, Aspire is a three-year mentorship program designed to help struggling women move toward economic self-sufficiency through targeted support and coaching. With ForKids and Catholic Charities as the lead partners, Aspire uses an innovative, nationally-recognized approach called Mobility Mentoring, which applies an intensive coaching model to empower and support women on their path achieve upward economic mobility and related quality of life improvements.

The program focuses on ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) women – those who are living above the federal poverty level and therefore do not qualify for many government services, but still struggle to make ends meet. Additionally, eligible participants must have at least one minor child, be living in South Hampton Roads, have safe and stable housing, have some form of income, and demonstrate a willingness to work toward self-sufficiency goals.

“When I applied to the Aspire program in May of 2019, I had drive but little direction,” said Chelsea, a recent Aspire graduate. “I had a purpose but nowhere to apply it. But because of Aspire and the setup of the program, I never felt discouraged. I have changed my spending habits and upped my credit score by almost 200 points. The credit initiative helped pay off $1,200 in medical bills. I have also saved $3,000. This program helped me achieve a credit score that made me eligible to buy a car or a house. Through my failures, I have learned, and through my achievements, I have lived. I am a millennial setting an example not only for my children but for the next generation to rise up after us.”

Recognizing that success involves achieving holistic stability across multiple pillars – family, employment, health and wellbeing, financial management – Aspire relies on a network of community partners that are co-invested in providing the continuity of support that women need to overcome the many hurdles and challenges they face.

The program matches each participant with a mentor to help guide them as they set goals in each pillar, break them into manageable steps and take action toward progress. The pair meets regularly to offer support and accountability, and the result have been inspiring:

  • 40% of Aspire participants have increased their income by paying off debt, saving and budgeting
  • 94% of participants have saving accounts with an average of $4,350
  • Participants have decreased their debt by an average of $17,152
  • 8 participants are currently enrolled in school or certification programs
  • 2 participants became first time homeowners

“Aspire has proven how effective this model can be in our community,” said Michele Anderson, president and CEO of United Way of South Hampton Roads. “Its success has inspired new United Way programming, generated further investments from Women United and laid the foundation for expansion to a large population.”

Aspire participants have been able to move forward with goal setting, credit repair, employment searches, and family stability amid a global pandemic and national health and economic crisis. And thanks to gap funding provided by Women United and Dollar Bank, if a participant does hit a critical bump in the road, we can help meet short-term needs to ensure it does not derail their progress. The gap funding provides Aspire participants with a financial safety net to help families cope with emergency expenses that threaten their financial stability, which in the long-term, helps them advance towards complete financial self-sufficiency.

In addition to the goal achievement and upward mobility, participants receive additional incentive for participation and progress through a matched savings plan generously provided by a $100,000 grant from Dominion Energy, which becomes accessible to each participant upon successful graduation.

In 2019, Aspire launched with four participants and has since grown to 40, with the first six graduating this weekend. These women are setting the example for their children, their friends and their community – breaking the cycle and building lasting self-sufficiency. To learn more visit