Toledo FOC Network 2016 Tax Season Wrap-Up

Posted by on May 11, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Home, News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Toledo FOC Network 2016 Tax Season Wrap-Up

Each year, the Toledo Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) Network coaches participate in the Ohio Benefit Bank (OBB) tax program as OBB Tax Counselors. During the 2016 tax season, the coaches in the Toledo FOC Network worked double-duty, providing one-on-one financial coaching services as well as free tax prep services for new and existing clients alike. In 2016 alone, the FOC network coaches prepared 1,085 free tax returns, resulting in over $1.4 million in federal tax returns for local residents.

This year also brought one of our local FOC partners state-wide recognition and resulted in a special shout-out to one coach in particular.   The ONE Village Financial Opportunity Center of United North was ranked #6 in the Top 15 OBB Tax Site Locations this Tax Season! Financial Coach Nicole Reno with the ONE Village FOC was ranked #4 on the “Tremendous 12” Top OBB Tax Counselors this Tax Season list. 

Financial Coach Nicole Reno was ranked #4 in OBB's "Tremendous 12" Tax Counselors.

Financial Coach Nicole Reno was ranked #4 among OBB’s “Tremendous 12″ Tax Counselors.

Nicole personally prepared over 300 tax returns while simultaneously providing one-on-one financial coaching and counseling services to her regular clientele and facilitating financial education workshops in the community.  When asked about her tax-time feat, Nicole played down the recognition.  “I didn’t even know there was a ‘Tremendous 12’ list.  I just wanted to help as many people as I could keep their entire refund and not lose it to high-cost refund anticipation loans or outrageous tax prep fees. I’m just grateful to have made such an impact.”

“Our purpose for providing free tax prep through the Ohio Benefit Bank tax program is two-fold,” explained Michelle Wasylecki, FOC Manager at United North. “First, we provide these services to existing clients as a way to help them receive the cash infusion they need to achieve their goals.  Second, we use the OBB tax program as a tool to engage new residents in the full array of FOC services—moving them from tax prep to income supports counseling, and on to financial and employment coaching and counseling.”  According to Ms. Wasylecki, common uses of tax refunds by FOC clients include, securing transportation (both car purchase and repair), paying off debt, establishing savings, and making down-payments on home purchases.

For the full report, check out the Toledo FOC Network 2016 Tax Season Wrap-Up.

Meet LISC AmeriCorps Member Kelly Dean!

Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Home, News | 0 comments

AC_LISCKelly Dean is “Getting Things Done” in East Toledo, specifically in the Birmingham neighborhood! Kelly and her husband are both lifelong East Toledo residents, where they met and raised their children. Their children are now grown and because of Kelly’s involvement, their older daughter has purch10352751_1904321693127406_2582460291635015927_n (2)ased a home in East Toledo. Kelly hit the ground running in her LISC AmeriCorps service, as she has already worked to secure 10 vacant properties, facilitated 4 lot clean-ups, and coordinated the transformation of an overgrown sidewalk from impassible to inviting. Kelly has done an amazing job securing partnerships and is encouraged by how organizations, like the T. Whitehead Recover Center, and neighbors are invested in Birmingham.  Kelly serves with East Toledo Family Center (ETFC), where she previously gained experience as a volunteer surveying houses, and is supported by the Birmingham IMG_20160409_082021 (2)Development Corporation. She has also surveyed homes for the Land Bank. Kelly says that through service she aims to “empower” so that individuals “can be more proactive on issues in our community.” Her supervisor, Jodi Gross at ETFC, describes how Kelly has been able to build bridges to the Birmingham leaders and neighborhood in a way that is strengthening the voice of all of East Toledo. Jodi explains further, “that Kelly is a down to earth resident who can relate to all stakeholders.” She understands that you have to be willing to work right along- side residents to get things accomplished.   Most recently, Kelly played a key role in East Toledo’s Global Youth Service Day efforts, where almost 500 volunteers came out to help with clean-up.  IMG_20160416_105113566

Toledo LISC 2015 Annual Report

Posted by on Apr 21, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Home, News | 0 comments

Toledo LISC 2015 Annual Report

By most any financial or program standard, 2015 was a banner year for LISC. Our total program activity for the year – measured by equity investments, loans and grants – reached $1.3 billion nationally, including $15 million in Toledo alone.

Check out the Toledo LISC 2015 Annual Report to learn more about the impact we were able to achieve in partnership with local, high-capacity non-profits and the support of our generous donors and funders.

United Way of Greater Toledo invests nearly $400,000 to move families from poverty to prosperity

Posted by on Apr 6, 2016 in Blog, Featured, Home, News | 0 comments

United Way of Greater Toledo invests nearly $400,000 to move families from poverty to prosperity

Toledo LISC is pleased to announce an investment of $399,424 from United Way of Greater Toledo to support the work of the Toledo Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) Network.  The Toledo FOC Network aligns with United Way’s Live United 2020 goals centered on advancing financial stability for individuals and families in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties.

“United Way of Greater Toledo is proud to make an investment in Toledo LISC, and the Toledo FOC Network Partners – East Toledo Family Center, United North, and Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio –because they deliver results that create lasting change in the areas of education, income and health in our community,” said Karen Mathison, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Toledo. It’s a pleasure and privilege to partner with Toledo LISC and deliver results that change lives of people in our community.

Expanding on the Center for Working Families model developed by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, LISC developed the Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model to build financial capability by offering families a suite of core services that attack each of these areas of concern—employment, income supports, credit-building and financial management—through programming offered at trusted community-based organizations. In Toledo, the 3 trusted agencies with a history of providing social and financial services in their neighborhoods that operate Financial Opportunity Centers are (1) East Toledo Family Center, (2) Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio, and (3) United North. These partners provide integrated services to clients, creating a multi-faceted approach to income and wealth building.

In 2015, the Toledo FOC Network partners served over 1,470 residents, significantly moving the needle for over a third of those individuals engaged in one on one financial coaching. Key financial outcomes achieved among this group include: increased in net income, improved credit scores, and gains in overall net worth. In addition to one on one coaching services, the FOC Network provided free tax prep services to over 670 individuals— bringing over $1 million in federal tax refunds back into our community.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with United Way to strengthen Toledo’s neighborhoods.  The FOC Network is a fine example of  true collaboration among neighborhood-based community partners who are committed to creating long-term change and improving the quality of life of our residents,” according to Kim Cutcher, Executive Director of Toledo LISC. This year’s investment also represents an expansion of the Toledo FOC Network’s focus to include the integration of homelessness prevention services into the Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio’s Crossroads FOC coaching and counseling service delivery model.

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is a national community development intermediary with a 35-year history of building the capacity of community-based organizations to revitalize their neighborhoods, provide affordable, safe and decent housing, increase economic opportunities, and create better places to live, play, learn and work. Nationally, LISC supports a network of over 75 Financial Opportunity Centers in 33 cities with grants, technical assistance, management support, peer-networking opportunities, and data collection and data management.

United Way of Greater Toledo, serving Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties, unites the caring power of people to improve lives. We are made up of problem solvers, difference makers, and opportunity creators. Together, we’re on a mission to change lives forever in our community by investing in programs focused on education, financial stability, and healthy lifestyles. We tackle the tough problems in these areas by funding and partnering with the most effective local organizations who create real opportunities and get results. You can give, you can advocate, and you can volunteer – that’s how to LIVE UNITED. For more information, visit

LISC AmeriCorps Member – Lindsay Akens

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016 in Blog, Events, Featured, Home, Uncategorized | 0 comments

LISC AmeriCorps Member – Lindsay Akens


Meet LISC AmeriCorps Member Lindsay Akens!



Photo by Deborah Orloff


Lindsay is a graduate of Bowling Green State University, where she studied Fine Arts, and of the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she received a Master of Public Affairs. Lindsay serves as an AmeriCorps Member with The Arts Commission and is facilitating resident engagement for the Old West End Neighborhood Initiatives (OWENI).

Lindsay calls the urban goat farm in the Old West End home, which allows her to combine her love of animals and passion for community development. As an AmeriCorps Member she is creating unique strategies to further involve residents. One stroke of genius she brought to fruition was converting the OWENI newsletter to hand delivery, drawing in youth and fostering neighborhood conversations in the process. Lindsay says she strives “to be a change agent in Toledo’s Old West End by interacting with my neighbors to promote positive change through artistic endeavors and volunteerism.”

Photo by Terri Provan

Photo by Terri Provan

Through her efforts, OWENI will partner with the CITE program, engaging youth and residents in the beautification of a water retention garden. Lindsay is excited about her recruitment of a University of Toledo class to photograph community development projects and is looking forward to seeing their finished work.

Lindsay’s AmeriCorps position is supported by the Toledo Community Foundation and she serves at the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo as part of their creative placemaking efforts. The Arts Commission is working in a number of neighborhoods engaging residents in creative solutions to strengthen and develop communities.

Jennifer Jarrett, Deputy Director of The Arts Commission said of Lindsay, her “wide range of skills and interests have made her an instant part of our creative placemaking team. She is willing to jump in wherever she sees a need and encourages when needed as well. She listens first to the residents in the OWENI neighborhood, offering many different options and

Photo by Breana Cousino

Photo by Breana Cousino

always seeking consensus for projects. It continues to be a pleasure to work with Lindsay, and we look forward to watching projects in the OWENI neighborhood develop into the summer.”

MARCHing Toward Cultural Competence!

Posted by on Mar 21, 2016 in Blog, Events, Featured, Home | 0 comments

MARCHing Toward Cultural Competence!

TLC_RGBSince its inception, Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) has been asking what makes our community welcoming to immigrants and refugees and what can we do to be even more inclusive of our increasingly diverse population. We have heard from residents and leaders, and while more predictable responses like jobs, safety, and language access were identified, another consistent, perhaps unexpected need emerged: cultural competency. After working with partners – Toledo LISC, the University of Toledo, the United Way of Greater Toledo, and the Center for Nonprofit Resources – to respond to this need, Welcome TLC is excited about the concerted and intentional efforts being made and launched this month to becoming a more culturally competent community.

What is cultural competency? Why is it important?

Before defining cultural competency, let’s take a step back to talk about culture. While pinning down one definition of culture is elusive, culture can be described as prescribed ways of behaving; norms of conduct, beliefs, values, and skills; and integrated patters of human behavior passed on through generations (Lum, 2003). Culture is visible, but encompasses unspoken and unconscious rules as well. So everything from food and art (visible) to eating behaviors (unspoken) to standing at an arm’s length from your conversation partner (unconscious) are all a part of culture. Furthermore, a culture could include entire countries or regions (e.g., Midwestern or Southern), religions, racial or ethnic groups, socioeconomic status (i.e., class), or even be based on something like music, such as punk or hip hop.

Considering that every culture is dynamic and complex, being an expert in all cultures is a daunting and improbable task. So how can anyone be expected to interact with and provide services for individuals belonging to cultures other than your own?

Although it is a lifelong process, cultural competence – not expertise – is one such solution to working with people different than yourself. Cultural competence is a continuous and evolving developmental process that is based first and foremost on valuing diversity. It requires an understanding of your own personal values, norms, and beliefs (i.e., a cultural self-assessment) and the ability to manage the dynamics of difference when cultures interact. For organizations, this means developing the ability to work effectively cross-culturally and requires having policies or adaptations to service delivery that reflect an understanding of and respect for cultural diversity and meet social, cultural, and linguistic needs.

Cultural incompetence may not always have severe or long-lasting consequences, for example, the discomfort caused by an invasion of personal space. However, cultural incompetence can have severe effects on health or educational disparities and be a significant barrier to people seeking or being retained for services.

Making Progress

Multicultural Competence Workshop sponsored by C4NPR and Welcome TLC

Multicultural Competence Workshop sponsored by C4NPR and Welcome TLC

March has been an eventful month for advancing cultural competency in our community. First, Welcome TLC partnered with the Center for Nonprofit Resources to present an all-day workshop on March 10th. Welcome TLC was able to leverage a national partnership with Welcoming America to find a highly experienced trainer and practitioner, Suzanne Lelaurin, the Senior Vice-President for Programs of the International Institute of St. Louis and President of the Institute’s Community Development Corporation. Suzanne introduced the 40 attendees to evidence-based theory about cultural dimensions, as well as practical tools on cultural dimensions and how these tools can lead to more effective communications, interactions, and relationships. She recognized that cultural competency is an ongoing process that must constantly be (re)learned and practiced to be effective. The workshop ended with a challenge from Suzanne to focus on understanding, observing, and practicing just one dimension before moving on to the improving upon the next.

Another step forward for cultural competency is the release of the application for a six week workshop: Cultural Competency for Service Providers. A partnership of the University of Toledo, Toledo LISC, Welcome TLC, and the United Way of Greater Toledo, the workshop is designed to help direct service providers recognize and use culture more effectively when working with others. Participants will develop skills to recognize and build upon their own and others’ cultural frameworks to work toward achieving common goals. The course will foster awareness and understanding of culture and power, as well as the practical tools services providers can use to empower themselves and their clients/participants.

Cultural Competency for Service Providers will run every Thursday from April 14th through May 19th from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM at the United Way of Greater Toledo. The deadline to submit applications has been extended to Friday, March 25th by 5:00 PM to To access the application, click here.

As honing an individual’s cultural competency is a life-long process, so too is it for our community. And Welcome TLC and Toledo LISC are eager to continue this work with partners to help increase our competency, provide better services, and build a more welcoming community!

Reference: Lum, D. (2003). Culturally competent practice: A framework for understanding diverse groups and justice issues. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Raising the Cultural Bar

Posted by on Feb 29, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Raising the Cultural Bar

The convergence of the growing awareness of  distinct identities of historically marginalized groups and the growing number of new immigrants to the community have made the need for “cultural competence”— understanding the specific cultural, language, social and economic values, beliefs and behaviors of individuals and groups—more important than ever.  Thanks to a unique partnership with the University of Toledo, Toledo LISC, Welcome TLC and the United Way of Greater Toledo, the Cultural Competency Workshop Series for Service Providers is being launched to equip area service providers with the knowledge, skills and ability needed to deliver culturally competent services.   For more information, or to apply for this unique training opportunity, click here.  Applications are due March 25, 2016.

Films and Food and Live Performances, oh my!

Posted by on Jan 21, 2016 in Blog, Events, Featured, Home, News | 0 comments

Films and Food and Live Performances, oh my!

Toledo LISC  is proud to support the 2nd Annual Toledo International Film Festival (TIFF)— one of the many creative placemaking efforts happening throughout Toledo’s neighborhoods!  Hosted by The Ohio Theatre & Event Center and Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC), TIFF celebrates our diverse community by bringing folks together through arts and culture. The film festival kicks off Saturday, January 23rd at the Ohio Theatre (3114 Lagrange St.) and will run through February 6th.  Back by popular demand, delicious samplings of food from local ethnic and immigrant-owned eateries will be available each night. New this year, TIFF will feature live performances during intermissions. Check out the full TIFF schedule below and learn how to get a full-access pass to the entire film festival for just $35!

January 23

Restaurant Sponsor: Manos Greek Restaurant


4:30 PM: Timbuktu (Mali/Mauritania)

Performance by The Ballroom Company, rumba lesson

7:00 PM: Dancing in Jaffa (Israel-Palestine)


January 30

Restaurant Sponsor: Mi Hacienda Mexican Restaurant


4:30 PM: Instructions Not Included (Mexico)

Performance by Veralucia Mendoza, singer/poet

7:00 PM: Gabrielle (Canada)


February 6

Restaurant Sponsor: Takacs Grocery & Meats


4:30 PM: I Wish (Japan)

Performance by Kazenodaichi Taiko Ensemble, Japanese drum group

7:00 PM: White God (Hungary)


Tickets can be purchased for in advance for $8 per film or at the door for $10 each. A pass to see all 6 films is also available for $35.


For more information and tickets, visit


About the TIFF Hosts

Built in 1921, the Ohio Theatre & Event Center is Toledo’s longest running neighborhood theater. In 2009, United North took ownership of the theatre and started renovations with the support of Toledo LISC.  Since it’s re-opening in 2013, the Ohio Theatre and Event Center has served as a neighborhood anchor and catalyst for the revitalization of the Lagrange Business District located in the ONE Village neighborhood of North Toledo. Through affordable arts programming like TIFF, the Ohio Theatre continues to draw people from all over to experience the arts and rich cultural history of the neighborhood.

The Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) initiative is a collaboration of partners working to build a welcoming and inclusive community for immigrants and people of diverse cultures. Welcome TLC is housed at the Board of Lucas County Commissioners in partnership with Toledo LISC. In addition to celebrating the vibrant cultural diversity and immigrant heritage of Toledo-Lucas County through events like the TIFF, Welcome TLC makes the case for immigrants’ impact on our community and economy, elevates the conversation for diversity and inclusion, and promotes immigrant-friendly policies and programs.

Housing Matters – December 2016

Posted by on Dec 22, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Home, News | 0 comments

Housing Matters – December 2016

“Blessed” would likely not be the word most people would use to describe their lives after having witnessed the murder of a parent at a young age, only to face later the heartbreak of having a child of their own undergo three open heart surgeries at the tender age 4.  But most people do not have the resilience and kind spirit of LaKesa Smith.  At 39, this doting single mother of 4 sons feels blessed to serve as the matriarch of a close-knit family— a family that is working to help rebuild a community in Toledo’s central city. Ms. Smith and her two eldest sons, Daryl and Darontae, are now laying down roots in Toledo’s TOTCO neighborhood thanks to the efforts of NeighborWorks® Toledo Region and the Lucas County Land Bank.

Making the Housing Tax Credit work for Toledo

The homes purchased by Ms. Smith and her sons are part of a development known as TOTCO Homes. TOTCO Homes was originally developed in 1996 through the Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA).  The HTC program is designed to increase the supply of quality, affordable rental housing by helping developers offset the costs of rental housing developments for individuals with low- to moderate-income for 15 years, after which the housing units can be sold to create affordable homeownership opportunities.   This program has been the largest driver of the production of new affordable housing in the state and nation over the past several years.

NeighborWorks® became the manager of TOTCO Homes in 2013, and its involvement in the neighborhood didn’t stop there.  In 2014, NeighborWorks®  completed the development of Legacy Homes, a 40-unit single family, affordable housing development.  Like TOTCO Homes, the Legacy Homes project was also financed using housing tax credits. This scattered-site project provides affordable rental housing now, and will allow residents additional affordable homeownership opportunities in the future. Forty thousand dollars has been set aside for down payment assistance, once the homes become eligible for purchase at the conclusion of the tax credit compliance period in 2030.


Moving Beyond Physical Development

Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) provides operating grants and technical support to community organizations, including NeighborWorks®  Toledo Region, that work to strengthen Toledo’s neighborhoods through community-building activities. “Engaged residents are the backbone of strong neighborhoods, and NeighborWorks® staff has demonstrated its success in engaging residents through the sale of almost a dozen homes in the TOTCO neighborhood in the recent months.” according to Kim Cutcher, Executive Director of Toledo LISC.

LaKesa Smith also credits the efforts of NeighborWorks® and the Lucas County Land Bank for making her homeownership dreams come true.  Ms. Smith explained how Alma Dortch-Gilbert, Homeownership Center Manager and Loan Officer at NeighborWorks®  gave giving her the support and encouragement she needed to make her homeownership goals a reality, “The thought of homeownership was scary at first.  I wasn’t sure I was making the right choice.  I kept thinking, can I handle it financially if I bought this house and something broke down right away?”

Ms. Smith said her fears were allayed through homeownership counseling services provided by NeighborWorks®,  and the improvements that were made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Lucas County Land Bank.  The Land Bank partnered with NeighborWorks® to ensure that the homes sold as part of the TOTCO Homes development received the needed upgrades and attention to ensure that new owners are not immediately faced with large repair bills resulting from years of deferred maintenance.

Impacting Families

LaKesa Smith is not embarking on the journey to homeownership alone. She successfully encouraged her eldest sons to join her. With the help of NeighborhWorks, her son Daryl Winfree, age 23 has purchased his first home just around the corner from her, and her son Darontae Smith, age 20 has purchased the home right across the street from her.  Ms. Smith’s pride in her two eldest sons is palpable when she talks about how they will own their homes free and clear by the time they are 30 years old thanks to the 7-year seller financing provided by NeighborWorks Toledo Region.

There are many economic and social benefits of living close to family, including babysitting, and the support extended family can provide when faced with tough times.  But none of these benefits is greater than the smile and excitement on 7-year-old Ahmad Smith’s face when he talks about he gets to be the first one to enjoy a sleepover at his older brother’s house across the street.

LISC Awards $25,000 to the Arts Commission of Toledo to advance creative placemaking efforts

Posted by on Nov 19, 2015 in Blog, Home, News | 0 comments

On October 22, 2015, Toledo LISC announced that the Arts Commission of Toledo is among 5 pilot cities awarded a $25,000 grant to advance creative placemaking efforts. The emerging field of creative placemaking leverages art, culture and creativity as catalysts for neighborhood transformation and place-based economic development. “For years, the Arts of Commission of Toledo has been driving the involvement of Toledo’s residents in place-based initiatives through the arts. This award allows LISC to support the Arts Commission and neighborhood residents coming together to make social, physical and economic changes in their community through the arts and culture,” according to Kim Cutcher, Executive Director of Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

With the support of the Kresge Foundation, LISC has launched a national effort to drive millions of dollars into arts-related business and cultural activities that will help transform distressed neighborhoods into safe, vibrant places of economic opportunity. The Kresge grant will initially support creative placemaking in just five of LISC’s 30 local program areas—places where arts-related community development work is already underway but needs support to grow. That experience will form the basis for developing best practices that can help direct efforts in other places, and funding will expand to new communities across the country.

Under the local pilot initiative, graduates from the Young Artists at Work program (YAAW) residing in the Junction and ONE Village Neighborhoods will engage their fellow neighbors in creating and implementing placed-based projects that reflect the culture and creativity of their respective communities.  Marc Folk, Executive Director of the Arts Commission explained, “Through the assistance and guidance of the YAAW graduates residing in these target neighborhoods, we will provide the support needed to develop place-based strategies according to the neighborhoods’ unique assets and needs.”

LISC’s creative placemaking work helps forge partnerships in our communities designed to revitalize the community’s physical landscape in culturally relevant ways that support the formation of arts and cultural economic clusters. Physical transformation may entail repurposing crumbling historic buildings into bustling centers for arts-related uses, including production-makers space, live-work lofts, galleries, arts education centers or theaters. These arts-related projects in turn trigger other commercial activities, such as dining and shopping, which attract new businesses and jobs. These projects not only help transform the physical environment, they also support economic growth and strengthen a sense of community identity, ownership and pride.