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Iriana Cordero: a push, a plan, a place

Iriana Cordero, a mother of three and an accomplished baker, admittedly does not relish the spotlight. But when encouraged to reflect upon Way Finders’ Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program, and what it means for her family, her face lights up. Her voice rings with resolve and determination.

“I can’t wait to buy my first home! That’s my plan. I want to have my own place that I can say, ‘It’s mine, and I can do anything I want,’” says Iriana, who works part-time as a personal care aide and is pursuing a degree in liberal arts at Springfield Technical Community College. “We’ll have our own space, and it’ll be something to leave for my children when I’m gone.”

Iriana joined the FSS Program in 2015, when she received a phone call about it from Way Finders. Open to recipients of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, the FSS Program was created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help promote greater economic stability. Participants focus on accomplishing a series of customized goals, over the course of five years, that will positively affect their lives and finances. And they have support and guidance at each step of the way.

Since she joined, Iriana has proudly checked off a series of wins: Purchase reliable transportation. Obtain CPR certification. Pursue the education needed to—someday—enter a nursing program. Pay down debt. Build credit.

Over the years, she has also shared her homemade cakes—a passion she pursues on the side. “When we have activities, she always tries to bring us some, and they are really beautiful!” says Way Finders Program Specialist Sonia Colon.

When Iriana was growing up, the fundamentals of money management were not instilled in her. That has changed, thanks to the FSS Program.

“I’ve attended many financial workshops. The budget class really stood out to me. It taught me a lot. I was spending a lot of money on coffee! It taught me to spend less, save more,” says Iriana. “I’ve learned how to manage my money better, and that’s something I’m trying to teach my kids as well.”

But the FSS Program is so much more than workshops. It is also an ongoing source of mentorship, motivation, and encouragement.

“Sonia has always pushed me,” says Iriana. “She has never given up on me. She has always told me, ‘OK, try and do this, look for other alternatives. Why don’t you try to go back to school?’ That’s why I’m here. Thank you, Sonia!”

To which Sonia replies, without skipping a beat, “And it’s going to pay off, right!”

It already has: In January 2021, Iriana and her family received a $24,000 check upon her graduation from the FSS Program. She used part of this money—from an escrow account established as a participant’s income and share of rent increase—to pay down debt, which increased her credit score tremendously. And further set her up for homeownership.

As a participant of the FSS Homebuyer Program, Iriana received an additional $5,000 homeownership bonus when she relinquished her Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher. When asked what that feels like—to give up the voucher—Iriana looks beyond herself.

“You know, honestly, I used to think like that, seeing the voucher as a kind of security blanket that’s hard to let go,” Iriana says. “But I want to have my own place. So I’m just going to do it. And give it up to someone who really needs it.”

In July 2021, she contacted a realtor she’d met at a Way Finders seminar.

“And I am happy to announce I am finally a homeowner,” says Iriana. “This would have not been possible without the support of Sonia, the FSS Program, and Way Finders. It is a dream come true. Thank you so much for the opportunity!”

Letting go to move forward. That takes the cake!