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Coming back from setbacks: “Cynthia’s in victory mode right now”
Sometimes the weight of feeling that you aren’t yet where you’re supposed to be—personally or professionally—can be crushing. Compounded by upheavals to daily life brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this weight can be too much to bear alone.
For Cynthia of Springfield, who holds a degree in liberal arts and sciences, participating in Way Finders’ Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program has meant that she didn’t have to go it alone. Cynthia had a mentor in her corner, FSS Specialist Evelyn Baez, who encouraged her through hard times and helped her move forward—even when that meant learning how to slow down before jumping to the next thing.
The FSS Program is designed to help recipients of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers achieve greater economic stability over the course of five years. Participants work with a mentor to reach goals that will positively boost their lives. The program can even help make homeownership a reality: graduates may receive both escrow funds (from an account established as their income and share of rent increase) and a $5,000 bonus for relinquishing their voucher.
When asked to reflect upon her experience with housing before receiving her voucher in 2015, Cynthia offers up a concise answer: struggle.
“As a single mom, it was a struggle paying the rent. At one time I was working two jobs and going to school full time,” says Cynthia, who had two young children. “It wasn’t easy. It’s like I was always in survival mode. I was kind of just taking jobs, any job, to pay rent. Instead of taking my time to plan to get to the next level.”
She functioned for years in survival mode, largely working in social service and finding ways (career coaching, resume writing) to supplement her income. In her ear? Her father’s voice. “I can hear my father saying, ‘You got to go harder, go harder.’”
Cynthia, the youngest of a large family, has a lifetime of experience in measuring her path against those who have gone before her. And learning the value of credit wasn’t intrinsic to her upbringing.
“My parents were from the South, they were from the old school,” she says. “My father was a World War II veteran, he bought his own house. He always said that if you have to live on credit, you can’t afford it anyway. He paid everything in cash. He didn’t like credit!”
Working to improve her credit has been one of Cynthia’s main goals through the FSS Program—which she joined in 2016, when she was unemployed—along with securing a reliable vehicle and completing both financial education and homeownership orientation. She also achieved her number one goal: full-time employment.
Four years later, Cynthia was preparing to graduate early from the FSS program—and thinking about buying a two-family home with her daughter. Then Cynthia, like so many others, lost her job during the COVID pandemic.
“That was a big setback for me. I became really depressed thinking about my age and how it was going to be hard to find a job,” says Cynthia. “Without Evelyn encouraging me, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
“I remember sharing with Cynthia that I had a change of career in my late 50s,” says Evelyn. “Because it’s never too late. You could be doing a certain career and then another door opens. You may be hesitant, but you try it. The fact that she overcame that obstacle and is on her feet again and working, she’s in victory mode right now.”
Today Cynthia—who graduated from the FSS Program in December 2021—works full-time as a direct care specialist, assisting adults with extreme autism and other disabilities. She cooks for her clients, too (“They love my cooking”).
And Cynthia has a new side hustle in mind: seasonal food vending.
“I’d serve homemade waffles, chili fries, chicken tenders. I’ve started gradually buying equipment, a tent, a deep fryer, an air fryer. If I can ever have a piece of property, like an outside eatery, I’d call it The Deck.”
“I’m very proud of Cynthia,” says Evelyn. “She’s done some really awesome steps and she’s really hard on herself. I see her purchasing a home in 2022—so that’s another thing to look forward to, right, Cynthia?”
When asked to describe her biggest takeaways from the program, Cynthia highlights the value of patience, planning, and good credit—all of which she’s instilling in her daughter.
“It’s a great program, it taught me patience, nothing comes overnight. Sometimes you just have to sit back, reflect, and reevaluate your life,” Cynthia says. “I’m learning how to see that things aren’t as bad as they may seem. I’m still a work in progress, but I know it can be done. Yes, there are obstacles. But there are different ways you can go about obtaining a home.”