Retreat Prepares Volunteers in UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA to be HomeFirst Coaches

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs


Held at The Westin Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, Aug. 4–5, the HomeFirst University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Coaches’ Retreat offered volunteer coaches in the UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA Statewide Program insight into the barriers to homeownership and tips for supporting participants on their path to homeownership.

Housed in The University of Alabama’s (UA) Center for Community-Based Partnerships, HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The retreat marks the expansion of HomeFirst into the Birmingham area as UAB looks to replicate the program.

Beginning in 2021, HomeFirst sought to partner with UAB to serve high-needs rural communities. By partnering with UA HomeFirst, UAB will offer the program across the Alabama Black Belt. UAB plans to serve 25 participants in these counties, with the majority to be served coming from rural areas.

“I got involved with HomeFirst after meeting with a community partner and Dr. [Nicole] Prewitt. I also spoke with Dean [Eric] Jack about the HomeFirst program,” said Dr. Stephanie Yates, professor of finance and director of the Regions Institute for Financial Education at UAB.

After brief introductions, the retreat began with an overview of the HomeFirst program on Thursday, Aug. 4.

“I look forward to pairing HomeFirst and financial wellness with health and wellness [because] their work focuses on reducing poverty throughout Alabama,” added Dr. Amy Hutson Chatham, assistant dean of undergraduate education at UAB and director of the UAB-AmeriCorps VISTA Statewide Program.

The first day concluded with an active listening activity and scavenger hunt trivia activity based on the coaching modules and resources. During Friday’s luncheon, participants learned tips to facilitate disclosure and trust during the coaching relationship panel.

“What I am learning most from this retreat is how to market yourself in the financial world,” said Kristi Dunning, an AmeriCorp Vista from Wilcox County.

Volunteers put their new skills into action during a mock coaching session, a role-playing exercise allowing coaches to place themselves in their participants’ shoes.

“I really enjoyed meeting the participants,” said Cheryl Sanders, program manager for UAB Regions Institute for Financial Education. “[The] participants really wanted to create a better situation for their children.”

The coaches’ retreat concluded with a tour of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum, one of the largest sports halls of fame in the nation.