As we prepare for this year’s An Evening of Hope, we thought it would be a great time to check in with one of our past finalists of CORE’s Got Talent, Tonji. Tonji was one of three finalists to perform at the 2019 An Evening of Hope: Endless Possibilities and a fan favorite.
Her story with National CORE began in 1996 when she moved to Rancho Verde Village in Rancho Cucamonga with her two young children. She had been living with her parents when a friend told her about the affordable community. “We are so blessed to be here, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world,” Tonji said.
Having a stable home for her family allowed Tonji to focus on obtaining her Nursing Assistant and Medical Assistant Certifications. In 2000, she started working at San Antonio Hospital in Upland, CA, feeling financially stable and proud of the work she did. It was during this time that she met her husband and had two beautiful children. They began to dream of owning a home with a backyard.
Then, a back injury made it impossible for Tonji to perform the physical tasks required of her job. She lost her income and eventually her nursing license. For Tonji, losing her nursing license felt like a part of who she was had been “ripped away. It felt like my world was ending.”
With the loss of her job, Tonji was thankful for the affordable rents at Rancho Verde Village, making it possible for her family to survive on her husband’s income as a teacher’s assistant for Head Start. “I did not recognize it at first, but it was a blessing in disguise,” commented Tonji. “I was able to take a more active role in my younger children’s lives.”
The security of an affordable community also allowed Tonji the time she needed to fully recover from her injury – in 2018, Tonji was able to have back surgery. With her back feeling much stronger, she is now taking courses at Chaffey College with the goal of achieving her longtime dream of being a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
Tonji, now 53, is a recent graduate of Pathways to Economic Empowerment’s Money Match program, a financial literacy program where participants build a savings account. As part of the program, participants receive one-on-one coaching to help keep them on track to meet their financial goals.
“Tonji’s commitment to her family’s goals showed throughout her journey on this Money Match Savings program,” said Hope through Housing Economic Mobility Specialist Heidi Reyes. “Despite facing a pandemic and a busy schedule she managed to complete all requirements.”
After successfully finishing the Money Match program, Tonji has started to dream again. After years of struggles, barriers, and setbacks on her journey to homeownership, she is now closer to getting the keys to a home of her own with a beautiful backyard.