Takaila Warfield never thought she would be able to own a home.
But that’s exactly what she’s achieved, thanks in part to the Hagerstown Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program that’s designed to help clients reach goals they may have thought were impossible.
“I’m just thankful they introduced me to the program,” Warfield said. “I’m no longer a statistic.”
About 15 people graduate each year from the voluntary program, which offers individuals and families case-management services and access to numerous workshops to help them set and work toward goals of self-sustainability.
FSS requires a five-year commitment, although some participants can complete it in a short period of time. To graduate, a participant must be free of welfare assistance for 12 months.
Along the way, participants learn how to tackle their financial challenges, grow their income and earn a little extra for their troubles in the form of an escrow savings account that the housing authority cashes out for them upon completion. The money, generated by increasing their income while in the program, can be used for savings, retirement, continued education or buying a car or home.
“I had one person who just graduated the other week with a $18,000 check,” said Sean Griffith, executive director of the housing authority. “They were going straight to the bank and put that as their down payment on a house.”
The story was similar for Warfield, 28, who added her name to the list of graduates earlier this year.
She entered the program in 2011, about a year after she first entered public housing as an unemployed 19-year-old mother with a newborn.
After entering the FSS program, Warfield said she was able to complete her schooling, find a good job and triple her income. She is currently employed as a pharmacy technician with Express Pharmacy in Hagerstown.
Warfield, now a mother of two girls, ages 8 and 4, graduated with about $11,000 in her escrow account, which she used toward buying a home south of Hagerstown.
“And the best thing is it’s the home that my children will grow up in,” she said.
There were times when Warfield said she felt a little overwhelmed, but never pressured. She said the program helped her learn to better manage her time, as well as how to set and work toward attainable goals.
Another FSS graduate, Ibeabuchi Amaefule, credits the program coordinators for helping him understand what was needed to be able to own a home.
In less than two years, the Nigeria native was able to build his credit score and save money toward the purchase of his Hagerstown home, where he lives with his wife and five children.
“It’s good to listen to your case worker,” said Amaefule, who used his escrow savings of about $1,700 to buy furniture for his home.
Griffith and FSS Coordinator Jill Moore recently stopped by to visit Amaefule, better known as “IB,” to see how he and his family was doing.
“This job gives me an opportunity to have a front-row seat to other people’s success, and that is an amazing thing,” Moore said. “… (IB and his wife) applied themselves and soared through this program. They are definitely a wonderful example of the success this program can offer.”
And with every graduation, the housing authority has something to celebrate, but even more so for the graduates, who have made life changes for the better and are on a path toward a more stable financial future, Griffith said.
“These kind of stories are what makes everyone want to come to work every day,” he said. “It’s what we’re here for and it’s what we hope to see come from our residents.”