March 12, 2018

This nonprofit demystifies personal finance for families in Philadelphia

Renewal Awards finalist Clarifi brings clarity, equity, and empowerment to those seeking to understand the complex financial system

Clarifi has been serving families and individuals in its Philadelphia community for over 50 years. Photo courtesy of Clarifi


Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on, and here, on The Renewal Project.

With all of life’s curveballs—and the expenses that come with them—managing your finances can be difficult to understand. Clarifi, a 51-year-old organization based in of Philadelphia, wants to bring clarity, equity, and justice to the financial systems that can often dictate how we live.

Markita Morris-Louis, the Senior Vice President of Clarifi, has worked in the past on issues ranging from affordable housing to fair lending practices. At Clarifi, Morris-Louis, who grew up in low-income housing, is pushing for financial justice to enable others to succeed. We asked her about Clarifi’s work and her lifelong commitment to community service. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation. Learn more about Clarifi on LinkedIn, Facebook, or on Twitter at @weclarifi.

Tell us about the work Clarifi is doing in its community.

I’m most proud of our Financial Boot Camp program. It began from an unsuccessful pilot, but has grown over the last four years into one of our most successful programs.

We initially launched a coaching program to train volunteers in our community to work one-on-one with our clients in between counseling sessions. Our goal was to provide our clients with an added layer of accountability for their goal setting outside of our traditional counselor-client relationship.

The Boot Camps integrate what we believe are the three pillars of financial capability: financial education, counseling, and coaching. Each participant is required to attend several financial education sessions, meet one-on-one with a certified counselor, and engage with a personal financial coach. Many participants share the common objectives of obtaining financial stability by reducing or eliminating debt, developing and maintaining a spending plan to reduce spending leaks, and establishing long-term savings. The Financial Boot Camp program provides many services in an intense and demanding program that provides a structured space where clients can turn financial education into practice.

In addition to the workshops and counseling sessions, participants receive a personal financial coach who acts as a cheerleader and motivator as participants endeavor to reduce debt and control spending. Coaches hold individual meetings with their assigned participant at least once a month and submit individual monthly reports that capture the participants’ progress towards their quantifiable goals. Clarifi staff members also monitor the coach/client relationship to ensure clients remain engaged in and committed to the program. Just last year we helped 169 Boot Camp participations pay down $44,000 of debt and save $118,000. Ninety-eight percent of our participants also increased their credit score.

We serve a vibrant, hopeful, and triumphant collection of communities that have faith that their best days are ahead of them and know that with support and guidance, they can plan for and achieve their dreams.

Tell us about the community you serve.

Clarifi serves the Delaware Valley which includes the City of Philadelphia and its four sister counties which make up Southeastern Pennsylvania; Southern New Jersey, including the City of Camden and Atlantic City; and New Castle County Delaware, which includes the City of Wilmington. Though we serve all regardless of income, over 90 percent of our clients have household income that qualifies them as low to moderate income. The majority of our clients are women, many of whom are mothers and African-American. We serve a vibrant, hopeful, and triumphant collection of communities that have faith that their best days are ahead of them and know that with support and guidance, they can plan for and achieve their dreams.

When did you start your community work?

While serving as student government president of my high school, I started a program to help feed the homeless members of my community, many of whom we saw on the way to and from school on a daily basis. In college, I mentored young women, was active in LGBTQ rights initiatives and racial justice movements, and advocated for educational equity through affirmative action.

I always knew I would work to serve my community whether through my professional endeavors or in my personal life. I’ve never thought of volunteering as a single specific act but rather as a spirit that is subsumed in the way you walk this earth and show concern for humanity.

What inspired you to do this work?

I am a child of the Great Migration that brought African-Americans from mostly rural communities and near subsistence farming in the South to big cities in the North, Midwest and West. My grandparents were migrants searching for economic and political freedom from Jim Crow and other forms of systematic oppression. What they found in the North would seem like opportunity to those denied even basic human and civil rights but they didn’t find a guarantee of the benefits of full citizenship that their birthright should have commanded. Despite their circumstances, my grandparents worked hard and relied on their labor and community to create a life of hope through despair and adversity. I stand on their shoulders and owe my life and opportunity to their sacrifice. By doing this work, I honor my grandparents and others who endured so I wouldn’t have to know deprivation.

Tell us about how you’re helping to make your community thrive.

We are working to make our community less vulnerable to financial predators through our financial literacy efforts. We are working to change policy so that financial predators don’t have a market, and so their acts aren’t sanctioned by our regulatory regime. We are helping our community thrive by helping individuals and families set goals and then build the skills and behaviors to help them achieve those goals.

What do you love about your community?

I love my community’s resilience, creativity, and brilliance!

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

Our community and our clients are the best authors of their own lives. Every day they figure out how to make a way out of no way, and how to carry on when the odds are stacked against them.

What leader or leaders inspire you?

I’m inspired by servant leaders who believe that true leadership is about showing others how to lead themselves. Leadership requires a learner’s mind.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.