Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. — When Cynthia, a single mother of one with twins on the way, moved into the affordable housing community of Villaggio on Route 66, she knew that her new two-bedroom apartment would not be her family’s forever home. After a few years, she watched her family struggle to coexist in the small space, so she did what needed to be done to be able to move into a larger apartment at Villaggio despite the increase in her rent.

“It was a sacrifice that I knew I had to make for my son,” she said. “The rent increased a lot, but it was to give my son that space that he needed and not be in the crowdedness – especially with dealing with depression and his social behavior disorder. [Now] we’re able to separate that as a family and be more united, rather than going crazy in a two-bedroom house.”

Over the years, living paycheck to paycheck, Cynthia has become a self-taught expert in budgeting, but saving money has been another story – until recently. With the help of Hope through Housing’s Pathways to Economic Empowerment initiative, including the Money Match savings program and one-on-one financial coaching, Cynthia has been able to stabilize her finances after a tough year financially and begin achieving her dreams.

At the start of the pandemic, Cynthia was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant at Cal State San Bernardino. “Losing my job – that was hard. That was really hard,” she said. “I had a full -time offer, to transition July 1st, and my offer got rescinded, so it felt like my dreams got shattered.”

Part of Cynthia’s dream is to complete the Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) she is currently working towards and become a leader in the nonprofit field. She is a strong believer in the power of education – since moving to Villaggio, she has earned six associate degrees and two bachelor’s degrees, all while working. But suddenly, Cynthia’s classes were remote, removing her from the education-focused environment she craved, and, to make matters worse, she had lost her federal work study job. Despite these challenges, she has continued with her studies. “There’s one thing that I was always told: nobody can ever take your education from you,” she says. “They can rip everything else away but your knowledge. And that knowledge is power – for yourself.”

With no work in the six months after she lost her job, Cynthia paid expenses with credit cards, having to “figure it out and make it work and stretch.” In the middle of this financial spiral, Cynthia connected with Hope through Housing’s Economic Mobility Specialist Heidi Reyes, who started helping Cynthia improve her finances and credit. Cynthia also joined the Money Match program, through which Hope through Housing encourages residents to save by offering to match 50 cents to every dollar put away in savings. Cynthia soon got a new job as a logistics specialist at a third-party logistics company and began directing half of her paychecks to her checkings account, with the other half going directly to her savings. With Heidi’s guidance, she also learned other ways to save.

“I guess we don’t think about saving because we live paycheck to paycheck, most people that are on this program. But it [Pathways to Economic Empowerment] forces you to save because you could say well, ‘yes I have that but, you know, if I can afford a beer or I can afford to go out to eat and spend fifty dollars, can you imagine fifty dollars that you could just save and have,’” Cynthia said. “And if someone like me can do it, a single parent of three with one income, it can be done.”

Even after graduating from Money Match, Cynthia has kept her paycheck split, continuing to build her savings. When her neighbors say they haven’t seen her in a while, Cynthia responds that that means she is doing something right. She is now working 7:30 to 4:00 Monday through Friday and going to school for four hours on Tuesday evenings. Her masters’ program will continue to be remote, but after winning a Building Bright Futures scholarship from Hope through Housing last year, she was able to purchase a computer and school supplies to allow her to succeed in online school. She looks forward to soon adding her master’s degree to the hallway wall where her many other degrees are already mounted – a visual message to her kids about the importance of education. She is committed to making sure that they will not be on their own at 18 but will instead be supported through the college education that she expects of them. “They’re not allowed to work at a fast-food restaurant,” she says.

After earning her MPA, Cynthia will be able to simultaneously give back to her community as a nonprofit leader and build toward her ultimate financial goal: buying a beautiful home. With the astronomical home prices in Southern California, that goal has always been out of her immediate reach. But at Heidi’s recommendation, she recently applied for National CORE’s new fleet of affordable single-family homes, Collett Crossings. She is unsure if she will qualify, but Pathways to Economic Empowerment has given her hope – if not today, then someday soon.

“This program really gives me hope that I can do it and give my kids the home that they deserve,” Cynthia said.

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About Hope through Housing

Hope through Housing believes that affordable housing can be a platform for transformational change at the individual and neighborhood level. For more than 20 years, the Hope through Housing Foundation has provided more than 2 million hours of transformational social services helping children and teens achieve success, improving families’ financial well-being, and promoting seniors’ health and wellness. For more information on Hope through Housing, please visit www.hthf.org.

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