SparkPoint Contra Costa director now Hall of Famer

Betty Geishirt Cantrell

Betty Geishirt Cantrell doesn’t consider herself a hero, but rather lucky to be part of a heroic effort to help struggling Bay Area residents become financially stable.

While that might be true, the Contra Costa Commission for Women believes Cantrell is far too humble.

The commission recently selected Cantrell to its Hall of Fame for Women Demonstrating Leadership for her work at SparkPoint, an organization that has provided more than 2,500 people with financial guidance since opening in 2009.

The hall of fame ceremony is slated to take place March 20 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord.

SparkPoint was launched by United Way of the Bay Area. The organization’s Richmond branch, called SparkPoint Contra Costa-West, opened in 2011 with help from $1 million in seed funding from Chevron Richmond.

SparkPoint has eight other centers in the Bay Area, including in San Bruno, Oakland and San Rafael. Each location offers a one-stop center of services aimed at helping individuals and families find jobs, get out of debt or return to school.

Cantrell started as director of SparkPoint Contra Costa-West center when it opened. Her Hall of Fame honor was for her work helping to merge the office with SparkPoint’s Contra Costa-East center in Bay Point. The combined centers are now simply called Sparkpoint Contra Costa. Chevron Richmond pitched in $500,000 toward the merger, which was recognized Tuesday in a resolution that was adopted by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Naturally, Cantrell, who now directs the merged entity, gave all the credit for her great work to her SparkPoint colleagues.

“It’s certainly not something I did by myself,” Cantrell said. “Everything about Sparkpoint is a partnership. We work as a team.”

The financial helpers at SparkPoint come from a variety of different Bay Area organizations, and to be able to work as a unit is quite a feat. Partners include Bay Area Legal Aid, the Community Housing Development Corporation, Rubicon and Opportunity Junction. Cantrell works for the Richmond Community Foundation.

Of all the clients she’s worked with, one of Cantrell fondly remembers a married couple she helped. The wife had come into the Richmond center wanting to learn how to save money for a daycare business. She was able to sell belongings that she had accumulated over the years and no longer needed. She used the money to pay off debt and build savings. Meanwhile, her husband got help with his metal hauling company, which is doing well after SparkPoint representatives built a website and logo for the business.

“We’ve been able to reach so many people,” Cantrell said.

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