TI grant aims to narrow the income gap in Silicon Valley

Buried under Silicon Valley’s prosperity lies a secret: poverty.

Pockets of poverty are scattered across the high-tech capital as many residents struggle to live in an expensive region. Persistent poverty can affect many generations of families and take a toll on the fabric of a community and business growth over the long term.

SparkPoint ribbon cuttingSparkPoint, a one-stop resource center, aims to help low-income people in Santa Clara County gain stable financial footing, thanks in large part to a $1 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation. The grant came from the TI Community Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

TIers from our Santa Clara office recently joined about 60 other people in San Jose to celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center.

Located on the San Jose City College campus, SparkPoint San Jose is a partnership between United Way Bay Area and San Jose-Evergreen Community College District’s Workforce Institute.

“We know that the best way out of poverty is a good-paying job,” said Dave Heacock, TI senior vice president, during the ribbon cutting.

And “the best way to a good job is an education,” Dave said. “At TI, we believe strong companies must help build strong communities, and those strong communities in turn strengthen our companies.”

While Santa Clara County boasts the highest median household income ($96,310 in 2015) of nine Bay Area counties, about the same percentage of residents earn less than $35,000 a year as do over $200,000 a year.

When SparkPoint San Jose opens this spring, it will offer one-on-one career coaching, financial education, tax help and other services for free to any community college student or qualifying Santa Clara County lower-income resident to address the income gap.

Since United Way Bay Area opened the first SparkPoint in Oakland in 2009, the program has helped more than 24,000 Bay Area residents become more financially stable. Additionally, 83 percent of its clients have made progress toward their financial goals and 36 percent achieved a prosperity milestone (100 percent self-sufficient income, three months of living expenses saved, a credit score of 700+ or no revolving debt).

The success of the first SparkPoint center in the South Bay is important to TI because of its proximity to our Santa Clara and Sunnyvale offices.

“One of the criteria for our grants is to have proven programs,” said Andy Smith, executive director of the TI Foundation. “SparkPoint fits perfectly with our support of United Way across the country. The results showed a really great program that’s helped clients achieve financial self security.”

Victor BarriosVictor Barrios, a 26-year-old student from South San Francisco, calls his experience with SparkPoint a “transformation.”

After his father left the family, Victor – then a teenager – felt lost, he said. He partied a lot, joined a gang and was in and out of juvenile hall and jail. He “wanted to make a change,” so at 21, he enrolled at the Bay Area’s Skyline College, but he struggled financially. A professor encouraged him to check out Skyline’s SparkPoint center, which helped him gain access to food stamps and save $200 a month.

Barrios completed two years at Skyline, and last month he enrolled at San Jose State University to study electrical engineering. He’s also taking advantage of SparkPoint’s food pantry and financial counseling.

A few years ago, student and SparkPoint client Victor Barrios (left) spoke about his experience at a retreat in San Francisco for SparkPoint counselors.

“It helped me stay in school because I felt school was making everything harder,” Barrios said. “For me, it was monumental because I could have been lured back into the neighborhood and doing the wrong things.”

Debbie Budd, chancellor of San José-Evergreen Community College District, says “SparkPoint services mitigate economic disparities to improve educational access and outcomes.”

Despite being one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, nearly a quarter of Silicon Valley’s residents earn annual salaries at or below 200 percent of the national poverty level ($23,760 for one person or $48,600 for a family of four). Many residents struggle to live in an area with rents, home prices and the cost of living substantially higher than other parts of the country.

Santa Clara County’s poverty rate was 9.5 percent in 2015, but the rate was more than double that for people without a high school diploma.

“Less than 50 percent of students who enroll in community college in the state of California end up getting a degree,” Dave said. “These students are often working multiple jobs, taking care of their families, and many are deeply embedded in a cycle of generational poverty, and the odds are not in their favor.”

The San Jose center is the fourth SparkPoint located at a community college to address low graduation rates, said Randy Hyde, senior vice president of marketing for United Way Bay Area. If a community college student uses at least three SparkPoint services, their persistence rate (continued enrollment) is 97 percent vs. the average statewide rate of 50 percent, he said.

United Way Bay Area based SparkPoint on an Annie E. Casey Foundation model that showed offering multiple services under one roof led to better results.

TI and TIers have partnered with United Way Silicon Valley for many years, contributing over $400,000 a year through workplace campaigns and TI Foundation grants. When United Way of the Bay Area merged with United Way Silicon Valley in July, it was able to expand SparkPoint. “TI has demonstrated our commitment to the Silicon Valley area since we acquired National Semiconductor in 2011,” Andy said. “This grant is another sign of that.”