“Opportunity Knock$” Puts the Real in Reality TV

Jamie Strayer, first-time producer of “Opportunity Knock$,” a not-for-profit TV series that uses technology to help Americans overcome the practical and mental elements of debt, explains how – and why – her show keeps it real. 

How is this show differ from other reality shows that aim to help people undergoing financial struggles, like “Going From Broke”?

“Opportunity Knock$” is a social justice production. Mission drives content and the content doesn’t gloss over reality.

“Opportunity Knock$” is providing real solutions for real people, not textbook advice that fits into 30 minutes. The other financial reality shows ignore the reality that most Americans need money solutions more than money lessons. Advice to increase savings, pay down debt and invest are not possible for 51 million Americans, 42% of the population, who live on a survival budget just to make ends meet. They are the best budgeters in the world because there is no room for error so what do these shows have to offer them? Even for the 61% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck one small setback triggers many complicated challenges that aren’t money lessons for TV. That’s why Jean Chatzky, Louis Barajas and Patrice Washington are Opportunity Coaches that, in addition to providing advice, guide families to find solutions in their own communities using a tool that can be used by viewers at home, The Opportunity Finder.The Opportunity Finder really is the star which makes “Opportunity Knock$” life changing TV.

The Opportunity Finder is a search tool that connects viewers to 17,000+ free and vetted nonprofits, community development financial institutions (CDFI) and not for profit credit unions to address needs like free legal aid, resume support, business start-up help and reduced car payments. When the Opportunity Coaches leave the families in the show they don’t leave them to face their next challenge alone. The families have support from their own community financial counselor, and other nonprofits forever. And so do the viewers!

How did the series come about?

My mom ran the employment office in my hometown in Tuscarawas County, OH. She volunteered with nonprofits and understood how organizations working together lift people up to build better futures on their own. Following in her footsteps, I founded a company, CU Strategic Planning, that wrote $1 billion in CDFI grants to increase lending to people who are told no everywhere they turn. These miracle organizations exist in every community. No one knows about them! That’s why people stay stuck in credit cards, go to payday lenders and face eviction without help. I realized just how special and important it is to have a guide. When my mom died of brain cancer, I conceived of the show so her spirit could live on.

What is your favorite success story from the show?

Tiffany and Charles White, a teacher and a preacher, faced heartbreaking financial setbacks starting with the loss of an infant, followed by two hurricanes which overturned their lives. Living off of credit cards just to survive was holding them back from homeownership. Rents were skyrocketing, exacerbating their financial pain. More than learning about money, the Whites used The Opportunity Finder to locate a CDFI that saved them $800 a month. They went from no way to save, to savings in the bank. This isn’t a money lesson they needed to learn. This is a money solution they needed to find so that textbook lessons even start to be relevant. The Whites prayed to God for help, and then our show called. It’s a beautiful story.

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