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Holding out for her dream: FSS graduate Daisy Martinez achieves a decades-long goal
On August 27, 2021, Daisy Martinez did something for the first time in 40 years: She called a place other than Orchard Street in Springfield her home. She first moved to Orchard Street at age 6. Then, at age 18, she and her young daughter moved across the street from her mother’s apartment.
“This was the first big move for me!” says Daisy, of the eight-bedroom multifamily house she purchased in Forest Park. “I didn’t want to go rent somewhere else. I always told my friends that the day I leave my apartment, it will be to go to my own home. And I kind of manifested it into being, I think, by always speaking it into existence.”
On the day we caught up with Daisy, a mother of two and grandmother of three, her spirits were flying high. With her granddaughter turning 10, Daisy was in full party-planning mode.
“We’ve got a little birthday party tomorrow, it should be fun,” says Daisy, who works at a surgery center in Springfield. “There will definitely be more parties to come. It’s so nice to be outside and enjoy the space. I’ve got a front porch, a back porch, and a backyard where my grandbabies can run around. I didn’t have that before.”
But getting to this moment—this feeling of pride and excitement—took time. As Daisy unpacks her journey to homeownership, tears (“happy tears!”) are shed. While she’s candid about how hard the process was, she’s also emphatic that it was well worth it.
“There have been times when I wanted to give up, when it felt like I’d take one step forward and ten steps back,” says Daisy, the first person in her family to purchase a home. “I would get disappointed and have little meltdowns and think, ‘I can’t do this no more.’”
From the start, but especially during the lows, Way Finders Program Specialist Sonia Colon was there for Daisy. Sonia is a mentor extraordinaire with the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program, which helps recipients of a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher to achieve economic stability over the course of five years. The program aims to give just the right mix of support and encouragement to help people reach goals.
“I’m proud of all of my clients,” Sonia says. “But if you ask me who tops my list? I can honestly say Daisy Martinez. She had so many barriers during this program, including a lot of arrears. But she overcame all of them and she made it happen.”
Daisy first learned of the FSS Program from Way Finders Housing Inspector John Nai, who made annual visits to her apartment.
“Every year I’d be like, ‘I’m still here! But I want to get a house.’ And he was like, ‘You will, one day,’” Daisy says. “Then one time John brought up the FSS Program and said I should look into it. I wouldn’t have even known about this program if it wasn’t for him.”
Daisy’s growth since she joined the program in 2015 can be captured, in some sense, through numbers: Her income has more than doubled (“I’ve casually worked my way up”). She went from having no established credit to a score in the mid-700s. She first graduated with an escrow of more than $13,000, which she used to pay off her car—which in turn boosted her preapproval amount. And upon the relinquishment of her voucher, after she enrolled in the program a second time, Daisy received a $5,000 homeownership bonus, which helped her buy furniture.
But it’s not just numbers that motivate people to stay the course. It’s stories—such as those Daisy heard at workshops where program graduates spoke of their experiences. An admittedly private person, Daisy is putting her own story out there in hopes of motivating others.
“I’m constantly telling people about this program. To anyone who’s on any kind of assistance, take advantage of programs that help you move ahead to a better future,” says Daisy. “I’m in their ear, telling them the same things Sonia taught me about financing, budgeting, and credit. She opened my eyes to a lot of things, now I look at my credit all the time. When I’m about to make a big purchase, I hear her saying, ‘Is that a need or a want?’”
When asked to sum up what the FSS Program means to her, Daisy praises it as a stepping-stone toward actualizing her dreams.
“I’m blessed, I’m where I've always wanted to be,” says Daisy. “It means a lot that I’m able to share it with my kids. I have my daughter upstairs in one unit, and my son has his own private suite in the attic. My grandbabies are close to me. Everyone has their space. I’m so happy. And I’m so grateful to the Way Finders FSS Program, and to Sonia for never letting me quit.”
To those still on their journey to homeownership, Daisy offers these words: “Don’t give up! It’s a rollercoaster ride, but at the closing when they hand you the keys to your home, it’s the best feeling ever. Priceless.”