Category: HomeFirst

University of Alabama’s HomeFirst Program Receives USDA Grant



By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Nivory Gordon Jr., Alabama State Director for USDA Rural Development, announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest $193,394 in grants to assist The University of Alabama (UA) in providing financial wellness training to prospective first-time homebuyers in rural west Alabama through the University’s HomeFirst program.

HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves low- to moderate-income individuals and families throughout Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa Counties on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The program, which is powered by the UA Division of Community Affairs’ Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), is offered at no cost to qualifying participants.

The USDA grant, announced at a luncheon in Eutaw, is made through the Rural Community Development Initiative Grant program. This funding will allow HomeFirst the opportunity to expand on its existing work in Greene County through an ongoing partnership with the Housing Authority of Greene County, directed by Anita Lewis.

“I am honored to be here, and I am happy to see all of the stakeholders and partners here in this facility today,” said Gordon, who went on to note the critical role UA students will play in this initiative. “I am excited about you having students from The University of Alabama coming in and working with our community,” he said. “Homeownership in Alabama’s rural communities is crucial to the continued growth and development of rural Alabama,” said Gordon. “Through investments like the one made here today, we can help rural individuals and families purchase a home, maintain a home, and thrive in rural Alabama.”

Since 2019, Dr. Nicole Prewitt, CCBP’s director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, has directed UA’s HomeFirst program. A key element of the program is that participants receive one-on-one financial coaching from UA students trained to provide assistance in core areas of housing and financial capability, including savings, money management, credit building, debt reduction and homebuyer education. While some participants go on to become homebuyers shortly after completion of the program, others utilize what they have learned to take additional time to plan for that process and still others decide that the responsibilities of homeownership are not for them at this time. Regardless of their respective choices, participants overwhelmingly state improved financial capabilities, which are crucial to long-term stability and expanding the pool of eligible homeowners.

This partnership among the University, its students, the Housing Authority of Greene County and the rural residents of Greene County is representative of the campus/community partnerships common to CCBP. The 9,045 rural residents of Greene County stand to benefit, as do the UA students who participate as financial coaches through this initiative that advances the institutional mission of excellence in teaching, research and service.


About CCBP: CCBP is an initiative of UA’s Division of Community Affairs. Its initiatives support the University’s teaching, research and service mission and it serves as one of the campus’ main engines in the support of the University’s efforts to be an engaged institution. As defined by the Kellogg Commission: An engaged institution is responsive to the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s. It enriches the student experience by bringing research into the curriculum and offering practical experience in the world they will enter. It forms partnerships of faculty, students and communities to put knowledge and skills to work on today’s most critical problems. — From Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution, Kellogg Commission Report, 1999). Learn more at http://ccbp.ua.edu

About RCDI: The Rural Community Development Initiative Grant program provides funding to help non-profit housing and community development organizations, low-income rural communities and federally recognized tribes support housing, community facilities and community and economic development projects in rural areas. This program serves eligible rural areas with populations of 50,000 or less.

HomeFirst Team to Present at 2021 ITGA Conference

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — The University of Alabama’s HomeFirst team has been invited to present at the International Town & Gown Association’s (ITGA) 2021 virtual conference, which will be hosted May 24–26 by Marquette University. The three-day conference will consist of 60 sessions on three tracks, which are focused on the theme “Innovating for Tomorrow, Together.”

HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa County individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The initiative is powered by UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), whose mission is to connect faculty, staff, students and community partners in research-based projects designed to solve critical problems identified collaboratively by community members and the University.

Presenting will be Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement at CCBP and an ITGA Board member; CCBP Program Coordinator Susan Kasteler; Kevin Giff, community development manager for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, N.C.; and Lydia Stanley, CCBP graduate research assistant.

Their presentation is titled, “Can Service-Learning Programs at Anchor Institutions Contribute to Increasing Homebuyer Readiness through Financial Capability?” The team will introduce conference attendees to the HomeFirst program and the importance of homeownership as the primary wealth-building tool for American families. Additionally, they will discuss the anchor institution concept and the role of higher education as anchor institutions in their communities, program results, learning outcomes, sustainable replication and more. Their presentation is scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday, May 25.

“In a relatively short time, the HomeFirst initiative has had a tremendous impact on program participants, as well as on the student coaches who work with them,” said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs. “This initiative speaks directly to the Division’s values, which include improving the quality of life in communities. HomeFirst is accomplishing this one cohort at a time.”

ITGA members from across the United States, England and Canada will participate in the conference. For a complete listing of sessions, abstracts and speakers, visit https://www.itga.org/Conference/2021.


About CCBP: CCBP is an initiative of UA’s Division of Community Affairs. Its initiatives support the University’s teaching, research and service mission and it serves as one of the campus’ main engines in the support of the University’s efforts to be an engaged institution. As defined by the Kellogg Commission: An engaged institution is responsive to the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s. It enriches the student experience by bringing research into the curriculum and offering practical experience in the world they will enter. It forms partnerships of faculty, students and communities to put knowledge and skills to work on today’s most critical problems. — From Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution, Kellogg Commission Report, 1999). Learn more at http://ccbp.ua.edu

 About ITGA: The International Town & Gown Association (ITGA), based at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, is the premier resource for addressing challenges, emerging issues and opportunities between and among institutions of higher education and the communities in which they reside. Founded in 2008, ITGA has a membership that includes colleges and universities, municipalities, businesses and strategic partners. Learn more at itga.org.

HomeFirst Program Teaches Financial Literacy, Places Participants Closer to First-Time Homeownership

By Ashley Cunigan
CCBP Student Assistant

As an initiative of the Center for Community Based-Partnerships, HomeFirst serves Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa County individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership.

Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, leads a service-learning course to introduce students to effective strategies to promote financial and housing stability in the United States, emphasizing pathways to homeownership among low- to moderate-income populations. Susan Kasteler serves as the program coordinator responsible for service-learning. Students are trained to serve as financial coaches. Eleven student coaches and four student leaders joined the 2019 HomeFirst program and helped 75 participants with their financial plans.

The specially designed HomeFirst curriculum covers savings, money management, banking, credit building, debt reduction and homebuyer readiness. Student coaches met with participants over three months to guide them through the curriculum. The goal is to help participants identify the obstacles blocking their way to purchasing a home, and developing solutions.

Throughout the sessions, students connected with community partners willing to provide knowledge and resources for successful homeownership. Volunteer coaches not only gave assistance in Tuscaloosa, but they also traveled to Hale and Greene Counties. Residents in these smaller communities mentioned that they appreciated students reaching out and hoped the program would continue for years to come.

Anita Lewis, director of the Greene County Housing Authority, commented that smaller communities are often overlooked for potential homebuyers. “We see everyone around us growing. Our residents deserve a nice home. If we can help them step up, then we need to do everything we can.” The housing authority properties in Greene County give residents an opportunity to buy the house they are currently renting. The HomeFirst program helps these participants prepare for that process.

Participants in Hale County met at the Hale Empowerment Revitalization Organization (HERO) offices in Greensboro. Participant Deja Jackson stated the curriculum was “straight-forward and well-taught” and she has been able to track her spending due to her participation in the program. When asked about her experience working with a student, she stated, “It was a good experience.”

Student coach Arianne Esteve was able to help participants from all three counties. “It was cool to see different people at different stages. I worked with different participants weekly. This program shows that it is never too late to look at buying a house.”

HomeFirst coaches made efforts to help participants develop applicable savings plans, raise their credit scores and reduce debt. Participant Shikaishia Edwards said the most important thing she learned from HomeFirst is the importance of a credit score and how to raise it. “I didn’t know it was so important before,” said Edwards:” Since I came here, my credit score has jumped up 45 points.”

Ashley Adams, senior student in Human Resources Management, was a coach in last year’s HomeFirst program. “We [student coaches] are financially coaching people who haven’t been able to purchase a home step by step,” said Adams: “It [the program] has made a huge impact on me too.” Adams said she did not have an idea of how to make savings before but now, as she will start her job in a few months, she has a clear plan.

With the assistance of HomeFirst, coaches were trained to offer one-on-one support to their clients while developing a broad-based action plan for homebuying. Student coaches not only offered assistance for savings plans but were able to help participants at any step on their path toward housing stability.

At the conclusion of the semester, HomeFirst participants were awarded with certificates for their involvement in the fall 2019 cohort. Several student coaches mentioned that the program was a great learning experience for them to learn more about developing a financial plan. Ongoing coaching will be provided to participants during the spring and summer with plans for a new team of student coaches to begin coaching new participants next fall.

UA Students Provide Financial Education and Assistance to First-Time Homebuyers

 

By Ashley Cunigan
CCBP Student Program Assistant

Dr. Nicole Prewitt believes in student success and emphasizes the importance of volunteerism in the classroom. As director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, Prewitt leads a service-learning course for University of Alabama honors students preparing them to assist first-time homebuyers in a financial wellness initiative known as HomeFirst.

The mission of the HomeFirst initiative is to serve Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa County individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership. Students in the course completed financial education modules assessing their goals toward money management and savings. Individuals were asked to discuss their results with one another, and many were concerned with student debt and credit building. With the assistance of HomeFirst, these volunteer financial coaches are trained to offer one-on-one support to their clients developing a broad-based action plan for homebuying.

“I read an email for the Honors College about this course and wanted to give back to the community,” said Alex Lang, a senior accounting major from Milwaukee. Lang explained that there are real problems in America, and the HomeFirst training sessions effectively prepare students to coach individuals preparing to buy a house.

Throughout the session, students connected with community partners willing to provide knowledge and resources for successful homeownership. Residents in smaller communities are often overlooked as potential homebuyers, said Anita Lewis, director of the Greene County Housing Authority. “The housing authority is not for permanent stay,” she said. “My dream is to help these families find homes they can stay in. We have to start educating people when they are young. Once we learn better, we will do better.”

In addition to the HomeFirst training, students engaged in a P.I.E. [Practicing Inclusive Engagement] Workshop with the Crossroads Community Center to increase cultural competency skills. They were asked to evaluate positive intentions and negative impacts regarding specific phrases related to social identity. This workshop fostered a welcoming environment for the participants to share their ideas on how they can be inclusive with first-time homebuyers.

“Our student-led, relationship-based approach supports those on their path toward housing stability while building a community of financially and culturally competent citizens. Students are our greatest asset, and it is my hope that they will learn alongside the community participants,” Prewitt said.