Monday, November 5, 2018

Home is where the difference is

Carla Strickland and her daughter Caira, 5 -- at home.
“I came back home from Georgia and had (daughter Caira), my dogs, a pocketbook and a diaper bag and started over. If you had told me I would be where I am now with her 5 and a half years old I wouldn't have believed it.”  Carla Strickland

One could tell right away that Caira Strickland felt secure on a pretty fall night in the Northeast Tennessee mountain town of Erwin. The kindergartener sat at her kitchen table with mom Carla’s full attention as she ran the “drive-through” on a tabletop toy. Later she’d help Carla feed their chickens, then mom and daughter would lay and read before Caira got tucked into her own bed, in her own room, in her mom’s own home. “She’s a mama’s girl for sure,” Carla said.

Caira will grow up in her own home largely because of Carla Strickland’s hard work and determination. Without Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s involvement in the “Project Reinvest” down payment assistance program, though, Carla would probably still be trying to save for her own place.

Caira holds "Bo" on the Stricklands' front porch.
“I feel like this assistance really allowed me to make the numbers work,” Carla said. Those numbers working mean the world to Carla, who grew up mostly in rented housing and wanted something different not just for herself, but for Caira. Carla slept on her dad’s couch so she could afford to save money and pay Caira’s daycare.

The National Association of Realtors compiled information from numerous studies about homeownership’s benefits in this 2016 study. Those benefits accrue to people like Carla, Caira and the 199 other families ACFCU helped through Project Reinvest and the $10,500 in down payment assistance it offered each participant.

Determination keys the turnaround

Carla Strickland did most of the work herself. ACFCU, Neighborworks America and other Project Reinvest partners just offered a hand up. After Caira was born, Carla declared bankruptcy and moved back home.

“I’m sitting there with a newborn kid thinking, ‘what am I going to do?’” Carla said. What she did was put her dental hygienist credentials to work and research how to rebuild her credit. Carla established a savings account and opened a secured credit card. “It was a super low limit, $500. It just went from there. I made sure everything was paid on time, kept my usage below 30 percent and just kept doing that. My score started going up fairly quickly.”

Carla has seven different accounts to escrow money for everything from her house payment to Christmas. “That way there’s no dumb decisions being made,” she said.

Carla admitted it isn’t always easy. It took a lifestyle change when it came to her spending and budgeting habits, and even now, she said, “every once in awhile I splurge and buy a $25 mascara.”
Lying with Caira as read together at night, and knowing the discipline she must maintain to keep her life on best trajectory for her and her daughter keeps Carla focused. In turn, life-changing stories like Carla’s keep ACFCU and its partners focused. It’s a huge part of what puts the “Community” in Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union. We hope to be part of many more such experiences in the months and years to come.

(Jeff Keeling is vice president of communications and community relations for AppalachianCommunity Federal Credit Union.)

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