While working as an insurance agent and investment advisor in the Charleston Metro area, Dorothea Bernique was concerned; while her clients had steady jobs, a surprising number of them had never learned the fundamentals of good money management. Numerous families lived paycheck to paycheck, without any savings or retirement plans.
Dorothea desired to help people with modest incomes find ways to stabilize their finances and eventually build a legacy for their children. A woman of faith, Dorothea felt God had given her an acronym to define her career’s mission: H.O.P.E., which stands for Helping Others Prosper Economically. Her clients needed hope that their lives, and the futures of their children, could improve.
“I thought as an insurance agent, that was how I was supposed to do it,” Dorothea says. “We can have an idea, but God’s idea is often different from ours.”
One day in 2003, Dorothea’s mission changed after meeting with a new client. “This young lady leaned over across my desk and kind of whispered, ‘Miss Dorothea, what’s an investment?’” she recalls. “It was after that day that I knew: there was a whole other level of help needed. People needed the basic knowledge.”
As a licensed advisor in insurance, mortgages, and investments, Dorothea knew the ropes in the world of personal finance. Her work with clients had started the wheels turning in her head. Dorothea daydreamed about creating a one-stop shop where ordinary folks could learn how to balance their checkbooks; save for retirement; fill out tax returns; clean up their credit scores; navigate the process of buying a home. She tucked away the idea as a future aspiration. But the young woman’s confusion provoked Dorothea to reflect further.
Dorothea felt a nudging in her heart. She recognized the Holy Spirit at work and knew she was receiving a call to action. Before long, Dorothea had walked away from her promising career at RCB Bank. She began working from her kitchen table, planting the seeds which would grow into Increasing H.O.P.E. Financial Training Center. (The agency received its 501(c)(3) status in 2005.)
“The ability to budget, maintain a good credit score, create an emergency fund, and develop a healthy attitude toward money are personal money management basics; they are the cornerstones we teach to begin the process of creating financial freedom,” Dorothea says. “Our overall mission is to help families and individuals become skilled in this area – to teach them to manage their income, reduce debt, and build a legacy for their family, beginning with the basics and then advancing toward financial freedom.”
Increasing H.O.P.E. has trained thousands of individuals in financial literacy and worked with community businesses, area schools, and other non-profits such as My Sister’s House, the YWCA, and The Center for Women. Recently its services have expanded to include a small business incubator for female-owned enterprises and an accelerated pilot program for minority entrepreneurs who are poised to take their businesses to the next level.
Increasing H.O.P.E. has come a long way from Dorothea’s kitchen table. After 15 years, the financial training center has grown to a five-person staff. In June 2021, Increasing H.O.P.E. will move into its forever home, a newly refurbished office building in North Charleston. Increasing H.O.P.E. will co-own the building, The Opportunity Center, in partnership with three other non-profits who serve a similar clientele.