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Hat’s off to 2023 FSS graduate Tia Best
Like to eat fresh? Have you stopped into a Subway recently at the Holyoke Mall or a surrounding spot—Wilbraham, South Hadley, Springfield? Then chances are, you’ve crossed paths with or benefited from the expertise of Tia Best, a 2023 graduate of Way Finders’ Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program.
“Anywhere they send me, I go!” says Tia. “I’ve been doing pretty well. I’m the assistant manager of two stores now. The best part about my job is the people, I love them. Customers who come all the time, who say I make them happy. I just like to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Tia sees parallels between her roles at work and home, which she shares with daughters ages 16 and 22.
“I have to make sure the store runs, I’ve got to make sure everyone stays on board,” says Tia, who manages several young employees. “So pretty much, it’s like me just being a mother. Making sure everyone’s in line, knows their responsibilities.”
On the day we met up with Tia at our Springfield Housing Center, she was dressed for work. And she was desperately needed at work. But, for this one morning, she said she wasn’t available until after noon. She didn’t want to miss her graduation appointment with FSS Program Specialist Sonia Colon, who came bearing some final paperwork and two checks—a real one and a big photogenic one.
“Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe it,” Tia said as she spied her escrow check of more than $21,000, which is established as a participant’s income and share of rent increase. “I’ve never had this much money in my hand at one time! And it’s payday!”
When asked what this accomplishment means to her, Tia’s reply is both philosophical and specific.
“This morning, my daughter said, ‘Mom, you did it!’ For them, this money is financial freedom, to make sure we’re comfortable,” says Tia. “Like the other day, the engine coil went on my daughter’s car. I told her I’d take care of it, I sent the money. She was like, ‘Oh mom, if it wasn’t for you…’ And I said, ‘This is why I save! So when emergencies come, we don’t have to stress the way we used to.’”
Tia, a resident of Springfield, joined the FSS program in 2017, after having received a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher in 2015. At the time she was caring for her daughters and her young niece, and childcare was a barrier to employment.
Tia remembers Sonia’s parting words from their first meeting: “She was like, ‘I’ve seen a lot of people graduate, who succeed and make their goals. And you can, too. You’ve got this!’ I needed the motivation, and she was there to give it to me. She believed in me from day one.”
The very first workshop Tia undertook—Way Finders’ Credit Success—led to an unexpected stroke of good luck. Not only did she learn how to establish and build credit, she also ran into a friend she hadn’t seen in 15 years, who mentioned that the Subway store she managed was hiring. Tia landed a job and, nine months later, was promoted to assistant manager.
“When we met, Tia was just starting to look for a job,” says Sonia. “Then she called me to say she was working, it was so fast! And every time I called her, she was like, ‘Sonia, I’m at work.’ From there it was nonstop, she was just climbing the ladder.”
“I literally want to hug Sonia through the phone every time I talk to her. She has been a great help to me,” says Tia. “Saving money is actually a really big thing that I do now. As Sonia explained it, you can start small, even if it’s just ten dollars. You put it away, you don’t mess with it, and you see it start to accumulate. And I’ve let go of some habits to cut costs. I’m teaching my daughters, too, that there’s a lot of things they want. But they don’t need them.”
To accomplish one of her biggest goals, Tia had to conquer one of her biggest fears. “I’ve been wanting to get my driver’s license for so long, but I’ve been just so scared and I didn’t really have the push,” says Tia, who got around largely by bus and foot. “Things were really tough.”
Her oldest daughter Anita, who is graduating this year from American International College, beat Tia to the punch—by getting both her license and a car. Picking mom up from work? That got old fast. At her daughter’s urging, Tia put the cart before the horse, as they say, and purchased a car in January 2021. The hope? That looking at the car, parked and ready to go, would motivate her. And it worked.
“I’ll never forget, I got my license on my niece’s birthday, September 17,” says Tia. “We go out all the time now, bowling, the casino. Just the freedom to say, ‘You don’t have to drive. Because I am!’”
In fielding some of our final questions, Tia’s positive energy is on full display. If she had a “yes day,” or a day when anything were possible? “I’m a yes person. So every day is a yes day!”
And a hope or goal for 2023? “To hopefully help someone else, by sharing my story. Maybe they’ll go forward with the FSS program. It’s worth it!”