For many people, buying a home is one of those life goals that you begin thinking about at a young age. Countless hours are spent online shopping for dream homes on real estate sites or browsing photos of the perfect kitchen.
Tonisia Giddens was one of those dreamers.
Before Giddens began working at Regions in the Human Resources Emerging Talent rotational program, she and her husband, Erik, wanted to purchase their first home. Unfortunately, they found the process intimidating. She described feeling “financial anxiety” and just assumed the process would be extremely difficult because of their student loans.
We are smart, educated people, but we just didn’t have the background or experience to manage our finances effectively. We both grew up in families that worked very hard but didn’t have a lot of extra money. I was the oldest sibling with a single mother and we often experienced food insecurity.
So, stress and anxiety were natural reactions when faced with questions about financial history, credit scores, and down payments. Still, she resolved to work through those fears and break the cycle.
Giddens looked into a few programs tailored to help individuals qualify for a mortgage loan, but the processes were long and strenuous – and frustrating. Eventually they found Operation HOPE, which was just what they had been looking for.
Operation HOPE is an organization that works with Regions and other financial institutions to deliver financial dignity and economic empowerment programming at no cost to the client.
Regions’ relationship with the organization includes providing workspace within bank branches or other public locations so that certified financial wellbeing coaches from Operation HOPE can have direct access to clients. They work together to build their credit scores, strengthen their overall financial management skills and become better prepared to achieve homeownership, avoid foreclosure or accomplish other financial goals.
The Giddens were connected with a counselor, and that began a long, productive relationship with a very happy ending. After three years of coaching, budgeting, saving, and paying down balances, the couple purchased their first home in the Hoover suburb of Birmingham, Alabama.
“It’s everything we wanted,” she says of their home. “And we owe it all to Operation HOPE and our counselor – who was more like a therapist for us. She broke it all down into small digestible pieces and gave us a specific action plan.”
“But most of all, she was compassionate and supportive, and she wasn’t judgmental about our situation or lack of experience with financial information.”
The experience was far beyond just buying a house, it was life changing. She now makes it a point to have regular conversations with her children, ages 17, 16, 13, and 4, about money. And she teaches them about financial discipline (what you want versus what you need). Tithing and giving back to the community are also very important to her and her family and being able to contribute to others financially without worry is significant.
“It connects with the guiding principles of my life, and my values,” Giddens said.
And those guiding principles led her to seek out ways to help others when she joined Regions. “I wanted to be transparent about my journey because I knew that my story could help others.” The Regions Next Step Ambassador Program was just the connection she needed to fulfill that sense of purpose.
Next Step is Regions’ bank-wide financial education program that provides in-person, online and virtual tools, resources and perspective for associates, customers, businesses and communities. The Next Step Ambassador Program provides Regions associates an opportunity to lead financial education workshops.
Cecilia Bailey, who serves as Financial Education Manager in Regions Community Affairs, said, “Tonisia’s successful journey with Operation HOPE will be so relatable to people. The fact that she’s been where they are is so inspiring and will help motivate others. And it really enhances the important relationship between Regions and Operation HOPE.”
Giddens sums her up experience by saying, “Being a Regions Next Step Ambassador, along with my career in Human Resources, are helping me fulfill my dream of giving back and paying it forward.”