There was only one person happier than Quianna Mason the day she closed on her first home: her 27-year-old son, Bobby.
“He is so proud, I think he was more excited than I was, honestly,” Mason said. “He always told me, ‘Mom, I knew you could do it.’”
Someone else who knew that Mason could achieve her financial goal of becoming mortgage ready to purchase a house in just three years?
Mark Adams, her Financial Opportunity Center coach with Mid Central Community Action Inc., a partner agency of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Central Illinois.
“Quianna was very motivated when we started, she knew what she needed to do,” said Adams. “Her biggest barrier was saving for the down payment. She saved up two years’ worth of her tax money and basically didn’t touch a dime of it. Quianna also worked to raise her credit score by 40 points.”
LISC is a national organization with a local presence in cities like Peoria where the Central Illinois affiliate is headquartered. Regions Bank has worked with LISC affiliates throughout its footprint for many years to elevate the organization’s commitment to equipping struggling neighborhoods with resources to transform them into thriving communities.
The bank most recently supported the Central Illinois affiliate’s Financial Opportunity Centers® (FOCs) in Peoria, Springfield and Bloomington through a $25,000 donation in late 2021. Bart Rose, Regions Bank’s market executive in Central Illinois, is part of the organization’s Local Advisory Committee.
“LISC’s FOC model delivers a holistic approach to all of the nonprofit’s programs, services and resources,” said Rose. “It allows clients to conveniently seek out and leverage everything from career counseling and financial education to household assistance resources all under one roof as they work toward achieving financial sustainability.”
Mason discovered the Mid Central Community Action FOC in Bloomington thanks to a friend’s referral. She began her coaching sessions with Adams in June of 2021, and the two quickly established a bond rooted in trust and accountability.
“They do a budget with you and you can’t hide your spending, you can’t lie” said Mason of her monthly check-in meetings with Adams. “Mark’s one thing would be, ‘I can’t tell you what to do, but I can always provide you with options and suggestions.’ I wanted to hold myself accountable for the actions I was taking. I wanted to have good news to share with him.”
Adams’ approach in working with clients like Mason is that of advocate and champion.
“The best part of my role is seeing clients become confident and empowered where they feel like ‘I can do this,’” said Adams. “Just giving them that push and the moral support. It makes a difference telling someone you can do it. Quianna took right to it.”
But, like anything earned, both acknowledge there were occasional setbacks along the road.
“Did I have hard days?” asks Mason. “Oh, yes I did. There were unexpected things that came up, and I had moments of thinking, ‘I’m not getting this house.’”
In those moments, Adams was there to offer reassurance.
“For Quianna, I would show her past budgets where she didn’t overspend,” he said. “I would ask her, ‘Are you interested in getting back to this?’ There are some months with birthdays and occasions where she couldn’t do that of course. I would just say, ‘We’ve done it before, do you feel up for doing it this month? It makes it more attainable and real.”
It’s the small word that makes a big difference for FOC clients like Mason. LISC Central Illinois executive director Angela Bolden believes clients knowing their coach is with them at each step is a key reason why the program is successful.
“Our model is about coaching, not counseling,” said Bolden. “Quianna fed off of Mark’s energy. This is exactly how the initiative is supposed to work.”
And work it has.
Thanks to her commitment to saving from her job as a school bus driver, Adams’ coaching and additional financial support from two federal and state grants totaling $12,000, Mason was able to purchase her home this past March.
“I cried the day I got the pre-approval – they were happy tears, though,” she said. “I always wanted to buy a house. The feeling is just out of this world.”
Mason’s son Bobby, himself a homeowner, understands that feeling. And Mason’s son Eric, age 21, and 10-year-old daughter “Noni”, who lives in the home, appreciate having a special place to gather when everyone is in town.
“We can get real social and come together and laugh,” said Mason. “It’s a good time in the kitchen. I fry some good pork chops. It reminds me of my childhood home.”
It’s been just a few short months since the moving boxes were emptied but Mason and Adams’ work continues. They still meet for monthly coaching sessions.
“Quianna is still budgeting, she’s now just doing it as a homeowner,” said Adams.
“That’s how good this program is,” adds Mason.
She’s been so impressed with her results that Mason encourages others to follow her path.
“I tell them they can do it too, I preach it to them,” she said. “I’m a walking advertisement.”
And who does she tout most during that word-of-mouth promotion?
“Mark has a difficult job, he has to deal with people like me,” said Mason. “I want Mark to be proud of me because he took his time to help me in areas where I needed help and coached me through it. He was a good coach, so I wanted to be a good player.”
Another goal accomplished.