Written by Katrina Daniel Tuesday, July 19 2011
Snapshot: Amanda Byrd
What’s that old saying? Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he can eat for a lifetime. Amanda Byrd’s organization, EARN, puts a twist on that adage. EARN teaches low-income earners how to save.
EARN is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to teach low-income families how to manage their money, and then EARN matches their savings to help them invest in life-changing assets like education, home ownership, or starting a small business.
Amanda Byrd is responsibility for getting the word out, recruitment, and advancing the agency’s goals.
Womenetics: Were you one of those lucky people who just knew exactly what they wanted to do when they grew up? How did you become involved with EARN?
Amanda Byrd: I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I tried a couple of different things after college and ended up feeling very depressed because I hated what I was doing. I’m grateful for that now because it made me think about what would feel worth getting up for every day. I decided to go into the nonprofit world, and it turned out my writing and communications skills were very applicable for fundraising.
Womenetics: What was your next step, and how did you come upon EARN?
Byrd: I got my foot in the door as a volunteer at a nonprofit job training and placement center in a low-income neighborhood. I learned on the job and ended up staying 10 years. Over that time, I saw that we’d place our trainees in jobs, but in a year or two or five, many of them would come back and they’d still be poor, still struggling.
When I heard about a nonprofit called EARN and how it helps low-wage workers really break that cycle, I got very excited. I’ve been at EARN for five years now, and I love it.
Womenetics: Tell me about EARN. What is the program designed to do?
Byrd: Earn is a nonprofit that helps low-wage workers save and invest so they can build better futures for their families. Everyone has dreams like that, right? For low-wage families however, those dreams may be about going to college, buying a first home, starting a small business, or just having savings to fall back on during hard times.
But for millions of Americans, those dreams are unreachable. So that’s where EARN comes in. We help hard-working families overcome barriers and create lasting prosperity. We directly serve thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’re leading a national effort to help families save and invest in their future through innovative bank accounts, savings incentives, money management training, and financial coaching.
We want to give millions of Americans the financial tools and opportunities to make their dreams come true.
Womenetics: How does EARN work?
Byrd: EARN teaches low-wage workers how to manage their money, and then we match their savings. In our nine years so far, we’ve opened more than 3,200 microsavings accounts for families who are making an average of less than $20,000 per year, and amazingly enough, those families save an average of about $100 a month. Altogether, they have put aside nearly $5 million of their own hard-earned money. That’s not even including our match on their savings. It’s incredibly powerful to see the shift in people’s thinking when they realize that they can save and that they can change the future for their families.
Our savers – that’s what we call our clients – can save up to $2,000 of their own money and we’ll match it two to one, so they get a total of $6,000 ($4,000 from EARN plus the $2,000 the saver put in). They can use that money to invest in specific assets that are proven to offer a path out of poverty.
Womenetics: What do you love about your job? What inspires you to get out of bed and tackle it head on?
Byrd: Seeing our “saver” families succeed. EARN is really serious about measuring impact. We have a lot of statistics, but at a gut level, I’m all about stories.
There’s an EARN saver named Julia who is one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met. Anytime I start feeling stressed out, I just think about how hard Julia works every day to give her daughters a better future, and I get all motivated again. (Julia was sexually abused as a child, and once jumped out a two-story window to escape her abuser. As a young girl, she expressed to her mother an interest in architecture, and her mother dashed any hope of that. Julia became a single mother of two, making $5.25 an hour. She realized she couldn’t provide for her girls. Through EARN, Julia has learned how to save, and one of her daughters plans to go to college and get a double major in law and medicine. Her other daughter has gotten a job working with animals. Julia realizes she has broken the cycle of poverty that seemed to have been her birthright.)
Womenetics: What’s the biggest setback you have encountered personally and how did you handle it?
Byrd: I struggle with a disorder called “trichotillomania,” where you pull your own hair out, sometimes to the point where there are noticeable bald spots. Millions of people suffer from this, but there’s a tremendous level of shame about it, so it’s a deep dark secret for most hair pullers. I only recently started speaking up about it.
It’s 10 times more common in women than in men, so if any Womenetics readers think you’re the only one with this awful habit that you can’t break – it’s not your fault, and you are not alone.
There are tons of helpful resources. And for me, it turns out that the shame was a much bigger problem than the pulling.
Womenetics: What makes you smile when you get out of bed every morning?
Byrd: This sounds incredibly nutty-crunchy, but I really look forward every weekday morning to my cup of jasmine tea and homemade walnut-blueberry bread. While I have breakfast, I read the comics on my computer in front of a big picture window, looking out at my little front yard and my very popular hummingbird feeder.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs, and a cat.