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June 23, 2023

When longtime Way Finders’ supporter Dianne Fuller Doherty of Longmeadow and her late husband Paul Doherty were starting out in life, fresh out of college, the housing landscape was much different than it is today. But one piece of the housing equation that has not, and will not, change over time? The need for education for first-time homebuyers. 

“Way back, when we had no money, we were able to buy our first house for $14,000. For us, it was a real learning experience, and it was terrific,” said Doherty, a founder of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, an endowment to support women and girls. 

More recently, Doherty has seen the housing market through the lens of mentees-turned-friends—who she first met through her role as mentor to entrepreneurs—who sought her guidance with their first-time homebuyer efforts. “And I saw, through their experiences, that it’s not easy! There’s a lot of education that’s mandatory for the process. A couple of families could get mortgages for less than they were paying for rent, which just makes no sense at all. But that education component is needed when you’re looking to own. And I think the fact that Way Finders offers that, and does so successfully, is wonderful. Hats off to you.” 

Between 2021 and 2022, Way Finders facilitated the investment of $45 million into the region—via 220 home purchases made by graduates of our First-time Homebuyer Workshop. With classes offered online and in person, in English and Spanish, during the week and on weekends, Way Finders aspires to demystify the process. Participants may also choose to meet one-on-one with a HUD-certified counselor for more personal guidance and support over time.  

On a recent tour of Way Finders’ Springfield Housing Center, Doherty was struck by the people power of the space. “I saw so many people working hard, directly with clients. I was very impressed with both the quantity and the quality of staff.” 

Doherty, who served more than 20 years as director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) Network’s Western Mass. office, remains passionate about advising and mentoring local entrepreneurs to drive economic growth in the region. She also sees parallels between the mission of MSBDC and Way Finders.  

“My definition of a good entrepreneur and that of a good first-time homebuyer is somebody who is resourceful and willing to seek help, to ask the right questions, to work at doing the right things to make it all happen,” said Doherty. “I think they’re very parallel tracks in some ways.” 

Her litmus test for backing organizations is similarly straightforward. “My criteria for support are strong mission and good leadership. And I think that Way Finders has had that from the beginning and has grown fast because of it. I feel very fortunate to be able to support Way Finders, and I will continue to support Way Finders. Housing is one of the most basic needs, it touches upon so much of people’s well-being and daily life.” 

Way Finders tips our hat to you, Dianne, for your belief in and support of our work. Thank you!