February 26, 2018

When Tanya and Alonzo Smith decided to improve their household finances, they turned to the CHANGE program offered by Community Housing Partners (CHP). Now, the Smiths are not only on the right track with budgeting and savings — they are also pursuing new careers.

“I really appreciated the time and energy put into this program. It was especially beneficial to me and my wife, when it comes to improving the way we spend and save money,” Alonzo Smith said. “We are still putting these things into practice, not perfectly but a lot better than we have in the past thanks to this program.”

While CHP Resident Services has always offered financial education to vulnerable CHP residents to prevent eviction, the CHANGE program goes a step further with eight one-on-one coaching sessions, including an introductory session, six educational sessions, and a closing session — a total of approximately 12 hours. Topics covered include credit and debt, banking for the unbanked, financial capability, budgeting, cash flow, and setting goals for savings and other needs. The program offers a monetary incentive for successful participation, and each participant can earn up to $250 cash.

“The class was very easy to understand,” Tanya Smith said. “It taught me more things about myself and my spending habits.”

Tonya Speller, Senior Resident Services Coordinator, delivered the class for the Smiths and other residents in the Hampton Roads area. “While working on their finances in the CHANGE program, they also thought about things like getting better jobs, improving credit, and furthering their education,” Speller explained. “They did not just think about it, they began to move forward.”

Tanya Smith decided to further her education by completing an online course and is now pursuing a degree in accounting. Meanwhile, Alonzo Smith underwent a job transition during the CHANGE program and is now furthering his education from the same online school and working toward his dream job in the culinary arts. The Smiths also made progress paying off debts and improving their credit score.

“Before attending this class there were a lot of things I wanted to do to better my financial situation but Tonya [Speller] helped me to put it in order, step by step, so I can easily follow a good routine to better my financial future,” Tanya Smith said.

According to Sara Hoke, District Resident Services Supervisor, CHP has offered the CHANGE program at six properties in the Hampton Roads area thanks to a $67,200 grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. It kicked off the program in 2015 after receiving a $10,000 J.P. Morgan Chase grant through NeighborWorks America. To date, it has helped more than 75 CHP residents to improve their financial capability.

“Prior to the CHANGE program, we offered financial education for residents by working with partners in local communities and talking to kids about understanding finances in after-school programs,” said Hoke, who came to CHP with a background in the financial industry. “Through these grants, we have been able to develop this flagship program and expand not just our reach but also the scope of topics we cover with residents.”

For Speller, the best measure of the CHANGE program’s success has been its impact on residents like the Smiths.

“I could see that all of my hard work made a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “They took the life skills from the CHANGE program and made a change in their lives.”