New programs centered on helping people save for a house or an education are taking root at Hawthorne Place Apartments in Independence.

Representatives of the Community Services League, Holy Rosary Credit Union and other groups gathered Wednesday with officials of Preservation of Affordable Housing, which owns Hawthorne Place, to dedicate a financial opportunity center. They also highlighted a program to help people save and plan for the future.

“And that’s going to help our residents increase their earnings and build their assets,” said Preservation of Affordable Housing President and CEO Aaron Gornstein.

Another program has the aim of creating a college fund for every child at Hawthorne.

“Access to higher education is one of the best ways for lower-income children to climb the economic ladder,” Gornstein said.

More than 2,000 people live at Hawthorne Place, half of them 19 or younger. It’s subsidized housing, and rent is 30 percent of a tenant’s paycheck. The more you make, the more you pay.

“So there’s a disincentive to increase your" wages, Gornstein said.

To address that, under the family self-sufficiency program, money can be set aside. Families enroll in the program for help with such things as budgeting and debt repair. Also, if the parent gets a better job, the added share that would have gone to the 30 percent for rent is instead diverted to a savings fund.

“They’re going to set their own goals and dreams over a five-year period,” Gornstein said, adding that at most Preservation of Affordable Housing properties around the country where this has been rolled out those involved have focused on a down payment for a house or further education.

One person who has pursued those dreams is Kei-Lisha Thomas.

She’s a single mother of four who came to Hawthorne Place 10 years ago and said she had no particular plan. She worked “fast food and dead-end jobs,” she said, and decided that wasn’t enough.

She enrolled at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River.

“I caught the bus – three buses every day – to attend classes,” she said.

She had support. The Community Services League helped with budgeting and credit repair. There’s a food shelf. The Boys & Girls Clubs, which has an active program at Hawthorne Place, provided child care. “They do a wonderful job,” she said.

Today she has a bachelor’s degree, a better job and brighter prospects, and she said the experience “gives my children an example of, you are not your circumstances.”

“And I’m so glad Hawthorne offers all these great services,” she said.

The college fund program, for those ages 5 to 19, is meant to make a long-term difference as well. Gornstein said research shows that even a small college fund can greater increase the chances that a low-income child will one day attend college and do well. Prevention of Affordable Housing is contributing $250 to the fund of each of the 600 Hawthorne who qualify, and there could be other matching money.

Starting early this year, the Community Services League has placed six staff members – two financial coaches, an employment specialist, others – at Hawthorne Place. It is part of the group’s shift in focus in recent years to help people get at deeper, long-term solutions to hunger, housing and other needs.

“It’s very complex work,” said Stephen Samuels, executive director of LISC Greater Kansas City, which also is investing in the Hawthorne Place programs. He said these efforts have a chance to become a model for the rest of the country.