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Providence Business News: Jeanne Cola leads LISC’s Impact on Rhode Island Communities

Cola using banking experience, skills to fuel LISC’s early-stage impact

DEEPLY ENGAGED: Jeanne Cola uses her experience and the skills she learned working at Citizens Bank for 25 years in her current role as executive director of LISC Rhode Island, an organization that helps get affordable housing and other projects off the ground within the state’s most distressed neighborhoods. / PBN PHOTO/­MICHAEL SALERNO
DEEPLY ENGAGED: Jeanne Cola uses her experience and the skills she learned working at Citizens Bank for 25 years in her current role as executive director of LISC Rhode Island, an organization that helps get affordable housing and other projects off the ground within the state’s most distressed neighborhoods. / PBN PHOTO/­MICHAEL SALERNO

Career changers are common in today’s workforce. Those switching industries bring broad perspectives and fresh skill sets to new fields but can make the modern-day corporate ladder look more like a winding road at times.

But Jeanne Cola is lucky enough to have found her lifelong career at her very first job, at Citizens Bank. She started work there as a student, was exposed to all areas of banking through training and stayed for 25 years, learning how to create mortgage products for clients with low incomes along the way.

“I only left as the opportunity with LISC [Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corp.] would allow me more influence,” said Cola, who has been executive director of the organization, which helps get affordable housing and other projects off the ground within the state’s most distressed neighborhoods, for six years. “It was about moving into corporate banking, only from a community perspective. I could be deeply engaged in change for residents and create opportunities to make their lives better.”

A community-development financial institution, LISC opened its Rhode Island office in 1991. Its goal is to build healthy neighborhoods by linking local leaders and organizations with resources to improve the quality of life. With a national corporation behind it, Rhode Island LISC is able to open up access to resources residents wouldn’t otherwise have – including public and private funding in the form of loans, grants and equity investments – for local projects.

“Those first dollars that come in allow millions to flow in after,” said Cola. “That is what really influences that change. That’s where, in my opinion, you see the real influence of LISC due to its impact in the early stages, with early investments. But we have to operate in a fiscally responsible way to have more dollars to lend out.”

Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence, which serves households with low incomes, is an LISC project. Cola’s group first assisted in making the space appropriate for child care with its Child Care Facilities Fund, adding in grant money, a loan to refinance the state-licensed facility’s mortgage at a lower rate, assisted in a renovation for program expansion and refinancing with more favorable terms. According to its website, LISC has invested more than $850,000 at Beautiful Beginnings, which serves more than 100 children and their families with Early Head Start and other learning initiatives.

“Our goal is to provide what they need where a bank might not be able to,” said Cola. “So, we can be a catalytic influence.”

Problem-solving is a big part of Cola’s role at LISC, along with her team. She is tasked with finding creative solutions. Sometimes this means careful consideration of an end user’s individual situation and adopting a different approach than originally planned. But due to LISC’s unique business model, she always has the flexibility needed to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“If there is a project that will advance the LISC mission, then Jeanne will move mountains to get it done,” said Joseph Silva, senior vice president of commercial lending at Pawtucket Credit Union and chair of the LISC Local Advisory Committee.

Finding those new ways to accomplish things was a skill Cola had practiced regularly in banking. But in areas of relationship-building and fundraising, the nonprofit world took a bit of adjustment on her part.

She had strong external community relationships from her former position, connections that were honed for more than two decades. Those collaborations continued when she came to LISC, but forging new, internal relationships within LISC took time, she said. Reporting to and getting to know members of the LISC Local Advisory Committee and how they all worked together was more uncharted territory. Then, when it came to fundraising, she had to learn fast. “A funder relationship is different. Now [at LISC], I was the funder.” But Cola saw the investment in relationships and advisory-committee collaborations not as challenges, but as opportunities to grow as a leader.

Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station is one of LISC’s latest collaborations.

Blackstone Valley Community Health Care is building a $14.5 million, 47,000-square-foot health center that will create more than 80 permanent jobs and serve up to 84 percent of Central Falls residents. LISC, recognizing the value in the center reducing health disparities, is financing $12.56 million via its Healthy Futures Fund, which offers better terms and rates than traditional financing.

Cola will continue to help every community in Rhode Island have choices in opportunities, actively searching out partners to make that happen, supporting nonprofits and their leaders who are on the front lines. She noted that the state needs 3,400 new housing units annually over the next 10 years, according to Rhode Island Housing Authority, to remedy the housing crisis here. She wants folks to know that transformations take time, and that LISC sees its work not as stand-alone transactions, but as vibrant transformations.

“I love my job,” said Cola. “I don’t know if you can tell.”


Building Strong & Healthy Neighborhoods through Service

LISC Rhode Island is a proud participant in the AmeriCorps program. A partner since 1994, we have recruited more than 140 AmeriCorps members Continue reading “AmeriCorps”


Providing Financial Tools to Build Neighborhoods

LISC is often the first choice lender for developers working to create affordable housing in Rhode Island. LISC Rhode Island also plays a critical role in financing other important community development projects Continue reading “Lending”

LISC Awards nearly $.5 million to Amos House for Retraining Program


Amos House is a nonprofit social services agency that provides hospitality and direct services to the homeless and poor of Rhode Island to address issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty. We are particularly committed to reducing recidivism and helping people who battle with addiction.

U.S. Labor Department Funds LISC to Improve Employment Opportunities for Re-Entry Individuals in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, Oct. 2017 – LISC Rhode Island has awarded Amos House $476,000 to implement its Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) model, a comprehensive education and support program designed to provide tailored services to move people into employment. The new grant is part of $72 million in funding awarded to 32 organizations through the U.S. Labor Department’s Reentry Project, which is focused on evidence-based opportunities to reduce recidivism.

With this funding, Amos House will be able to expand its job training and education programs and integrate them with the Financial Opportunity Center offerings, a highly successful program developed by LISC that helps participants with job placement, financial coaching, and access to public benefits. Amos House will adapt the BCO model to address the specific needs and services necessary for individuals recently released from prison.

“As a result of this funding, Amos House will provide intensive wraparound supports related to barriers specific to the re-entry population,” said Jeanne Cola, Executive Director of LISC Rhode Island.  “Participants will be able to complete the education and skills training components of the Bridges to Career Opportunities program and transition to employment.”

With a grant from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), LISC launched its Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model nationally in 2010 and featured several sites in Rhode Island, including Amos House.  FOCs provide clients with three integrated services: employment coaching, financial education and coaching, and assistance accessing income supports. This bundling of services helps clients make important behavioral changes about money and improve their financial outlook, while preparing them to succeed in the workplace. The model has been successful in helping clients see real improvements in net income, net worth, and credit scores. Additional SIF funding allowed LISC to then introduce the Bridges to Career Opportunities model, which incorporated contextualized educational services along with career training programs and provided opportunities for those FOC clients who needed to build additional foundational skills to successfully complete higher-level skills training and be more competitive in the job market.

“In addition to job training and education, providing services to help participants navigate legal and technical matters related to child support, fines, court, parole/probation, as well as help with transportation, housing barriers, and substance abuse, will translate into meaningful change for this vulnerable population,” said Cola.

Approximately 2.3% of adults in Rhode Island are on probation or parole, which as of 6/30/17 was 23,081 adults in the state, and there were 2,797 individuals released in 2017 [1]. Of this number, about 5% of sentenced releases self-reported that they were homeless or had no permanent address. The Department of Corrections also reports that of the total prison population, 52% of men and 61% of women were unemployed at the time they were incarcerated.  Additionally, of this 2017 population, 35% of incarcerated men and 25% of incarcerated women had less than a high school education, and 51% of men and 38% of women were re-sentenced within 36 months of release [2].

“We are very grateful to LISC,” said Eileen Hayes, President and CEO of Amos House. “This was a very competitive process and the funding will allow us to focus much more intensively on people entering our training programs and accessing FOC services within 6 months of being released from incarceration.”

Nationwide, there are more than 2.3 million people in prisons, jails and other detention facilities, with 650,000 released each year from prisons alone. Studies on recidivism done by the National Institute of Justice based in Washington D.C. indicate that nearly 77 percent are arrested again within five years.

The award is part of a larger grant from the U.S. Department of Labor which awarded $4.5 million in new funding for LISC Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) nationwide. The grant will extend the reach of LISC FOCs in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Providence that operate in communities with high rates of poverty, crime and reentry. Amos House is one of only seven organizations across the LISC footprint to receive these funds.

The FOCs are part of a broader LISC effort to expand economic opportunity for low income people. It dovetails with LISC’s community safety work that builds police community partnerships, supports data-driven strategies to take on crime hotspots, and integrates safety into broader programs on economic development, housing and jobs.

LISC Rhode Island — LISC Rhode Island equips communities with the capital, program strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive. We combine corporate, government and philanthropic resources to provide catalytic growth throughout the state.  Since 1991, LISC Rhode Island has invested more than $345 million in projects that has leveraged an additional $1.4 billion dollars of investment. We are working to forge communities of opportunity – great places to live, work, visit, do business and raise families. For more, visit www.rilisc.org

[1] RI DOC 2017 Population Update: http://www.doc.ri.gov/administration/planning/docs/FY17%20Annual%20Population%20Report.pdf]


[2] RI DOC 2017 Population Update

Our Neighborhoods

Building Strong and Healthy Neighborhoods for Rhode Island’s Families

Launched in 2007, Our Neighborhoods is a holistic community development strategy designed to improve the quality of life in Rhode Island’s most challenged neighborhoods. Continue reading “Our Neighborhoods”