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By Breeana Greenberg

A financial literacy pilot program to teach families at R.H. Dana Elementary School about personal financial management and budgeting has been deemed a success and will now be offered on a permanent basis, Orange County United Way announced this week.

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when many service industry workers were impacted the most, OC United Way launched the pilot program through a partnership with the City of Dana Point and the Capistrano Unified School District in 2021 with the intention of helping 100 South Orange County families.

“We knew that there was need across the county and we do a lot of programming across all of Orange County, but there hadn’t been a financial wellness program like this in South County,” OC United Way President and CEO Sue Parks said.

“We were excited because of the great team at the City of Dana Point, the Capistrano School District, the principal, Kristen Nelson, at R.H. Dana,” she added. “It’s just been a perfect spot to make that Hub.”

Over the last year, the nonprofit met its goal. Of the 100 families that took part in the program, 28 of them were connected to local services to keep the support coming after they completed the program and 54 families were loaned laptops so that they had a way to manage their budgets.

“It was really, really a gratifying program. What’s been very cool is that people are referring their friends and their families,” Parks said. “So we decided this was a full-blown program, the pilot was so successful, so we started off this year with the first cohort (group). (The program) runs quarterly and that first cohort filled up very quickly.”

The literacy pilot program at R.H. Dana is part of OC United Way’s larger SparkPoint OC financial empowerment program, which started in 2012 and is meant to help Orange County families gain financial independence by offering financial education and one-on-one coaching.

The first group of families to participate in the local program started in early January and ran through mid-March. The second cohort runs from late March to mid-June and the next group will run from mid-June to August.

United Way aims to have 25 people per cohort, but no more than 30. The program is open to families with children at R.H. Dana Elementary or Palisades Elementary Schools and families who live within South Orange County.

Families within the program earn an average income of a little more than $30,000 a year. The financial literacy program requires access to a computer and internet connection but a limited number of laptops will be available for loan.

Families in the program receive a coach who they are able to meet with, one-on-one. At the start of the quarter, families will set up a schedule with their coach and take an assessment to ensure that the program is helping the family work towards their goals based on their needs.  Families will also have access to a series of educational workshops.

“It’s a really wonderful opportunity for all of us that are part of South County to come together and help families,” Parks said. “It’s a pleasure to work with the school, the City of Dana Point, Capistrano School District, and so many other caring individuals. We’re just thankful for all the support.”

For those interested in learning more about the financial literacy program, an information session will be held on June 7 from 11-11:30 a.m. For more information, contact Marcela Ticas at or call 949.263.6178.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at

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