Member Moments: Financial Freedom Starts With Small, Strategic Steps

  • Member Stories
April 27, 2020
Kelley Martin had a hard time finding a banking experience she truly loved. She wanted one that would take her and her nonprofit, Steps of Strategy, seriously. She finally stopped looking when she found Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. 

“Affinity Plus truly wants to help others be the best they can be,” said Martin. “They are unique among the financial institutions I talked with during my search.” Read on to learn about Steps of Strategy and why Martin is proud to say, “I love Affinity Plus!”

What is Steps of Strategy?

Steps of Strategy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit supporting and empowering people to become self-sufficient while transitioning to independence. We work with young adults, women and children, and families starting over due to economic hardships. The organization understands some people need help before it becomes a crisis. We help people gain confidence and knowledge necessary to achieve goals ranging from nutrition to home ownership and much more.  

Why did you start Steps of Strategy?

I have multiple years of experience working in social services. About 15 years ago, I had life hardships hit me in every area of life possible – health, family, finances. Here I was serving others and I didn’t know how I could start over. I wasn’t eligible for services I so often referred others to. I got through that time in my life and realized there are many others who don’t qualify for traditional services, so that’s when I began to form Steps of Strategy.

I founded the organization on the belief that providing positive avenues and mentorship can prevent future disparities in the lives of those we serve. We believe in meeting participants where they are at, embracing their strengths while providing them with tools to build mental, physical and financial security.

One of the first services provided was finding housing for participants. When I started my first house, I rented out the top of a duplex to three young adults. The property belonged to a distant relative who loved what I wanted to do with it. Soon I was renting out the downstairs unit as well after we fixed it up a bit – new carpet, painted the walls and moved in some of my furniture. We ended up with nine young men under the age of 22 in one building.

Tenants pay market rate for rent and we help them with other things such as finding a job or paying for food. Housing is an important component because you can’t focus on working every day if you don’t know where you’re going to sleep every night.

2012 is when I formally started the organization. I was feeling more confident about what I was doing and thought, ‘Okay, I guess I should make this a business.’ Mind you, I had about $200 in my pocket to start this along with some donations and my own furniture. I was still walking out of recovering financially from my own hardships.

After I opened the second house, community investors reached out with properties they had. They were responsible for maintenance of the home and I had the master lease of the units. We still rent out two of the four locations we originally started with. Today, we have 42 locations and growing, and a budget of more than $1 million.

How did your connection to Affinity Plus start?

I had wanted to set up a business account for Steps of Strategy and offer financial budgeting classes for participants. The previous bank I was with couldn’t meet my needs. They didn’t see where this organization could go. I found Affinity Plus and opened up my account and started working with the credit union on financial classes.

Each quarter I brought program participants to the Affinity Plus branch in Roseville. The goal was to teach them different ways to look at debt and finances and how to reestablish or build their credit. Then based on their financials goals of home ownership, buying a car or whatever was next for them, they had financial understanding and relationships already started with Affinity Plus.

You likely have some great stories of helping others gain financial literacy and find success.

Yes, it’s so rewarding seeing people change their lives for the better! One person who sticks out for me is Jodi. She was a single woman in her 50s who was going through some real life changes. She wanted to travel, but knew first she needed to get rid of her debt. Jodi is an Affinity Plus member and Affinity Plus played a role in her financial literacy success. She decided to be a truck driver and Steps of Strategy supported her to pay some of her schooling while she got the other money together. Jodi got her CDL license, paid off her debt, purchased her own semi and is financially free as her own entrepreneur! She travels the world and is living the life she never thought she could have. All thanks to financial freedom!

What services are provided through Steps of Strategy?

The programs offered provide bridges from financial guidance to independence and stability in their everyday lives. Some of our specific programs focus on housing, relationships, life and medical insurance, health and wellness, employment, budgeting and finance, education and living skills.

How can people help support Steps of Strategy?

There are many ways others can help support our organization.

  • Strategic education: We love when subject matter experts can help educate our participants on topics essential to life skills. We continue to work with Affinity Plus on financial literacy.
  • Hands on help: We will always accept help from those who can give of their time. Maybe it’s helping with administrative stuff or painting a unit or landscaping at one of the homes.
  • Mentoring: Sometimes we have participants interested in a certain kind of job and could use mentoring from someone who knows the pros and cons, dos and don’ts of getting into the field.
  • Financial contributions: Gift cards, gas cards, grocery cards. It can be the little things that make such a difference and help reduce the stress for individuals and families.
  • Furniture or household items: We really like to get tenants started with basic supplies such as furniture, sheets, towels, blankets, paper towels, toilet paper and laundry soap.
What do you like most about banking with Affinity Plus?

We have plenty of Steps of Strategy participants who became members of Affinity Plus. I always tell them, ‘I love Affinity Plus!’ The philosophy of Affinity Plus closely matches our organization. Both organizations want to help you be the best you can be, especially financially.

Recently I stopped by the Affinity Plus St. Paul – Capitol branch and the employees gushed about how much they loved Lawrence, a Steps of Strategy employee and house leader. He just bought his first car on his own, in his 40s. He’s getting his credit straight and paying off his debt.

Steps of Strategy participants come into the Affinity Plus branches and they’re so well taken care of. Affinity Plus really is here to help our organization grow.

Based in St. Paul, Minn., Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union is a not-for-profit, financial cooperative that puts people first above profits. Members of Affinity Plus receive maximum value through competitive rates, minimal fees, and unique, member-centric products and programs. Established in 1930, Affinity Plus has 28 branches located throughout Minnesota and is owned by more than 200,000 members. Affinity Plus has over $2 billion in assets. Additional information is available at www.affinityplus.org or by calling (800) 322-7228.