Stabilizing Lives, Housing, and Communities During Crisis

From job searches to help with the rent, nonprofit programs support individuals in crisis to help communities emerge stronger from the pandemic, with help from Wells Fargo.
Apr 9, 2021 9:00 AM ET
Article

After Markaela Lee lost her financial services job last year amid the pandemic, the toughest job of all began: finding a new one. As weeks of unemployment became months, she turned to a nonprofit housing organization that helped her with rent and job search support.

She spent hours fine-tuning her resume, pursuing job openings, and practicing her interview skills. Finally, it all paid off. She landed a new job as a customer support representative for a mortgage lender — a life-changing moment she said the Better Housing Coalition, or BHC, helped make possible.

“They were there for me,” said Lee, who lives in Richmond, Virginia. “It was a scary time for everyone, really, when the pandemic hit. The turning point for me was when BHC stepped in with assistance. It gave me motivation and confidence I could get through this. It gave me determination to work hard and get another job.”

Lee is one of many across the U.S. who have received help during the COVID-19 crisis from programs sponsored by the Wells Fargo Foundation with NeighborWorksAmerica, and its network of affiliates, including Better Housing Coalition. Last year, the company donated $225 million to 1,600 nonprofits as part of an effort to battle housing insecurity during the pandemic and help at least 200,000 people remain in their homes.

To emerge stronger from a pandemic

While much of the money has gone to rental assistance, it has also supported a range of services — such as job search counseling — to help people facing unemployment amid rising costs for child care, health care, food, and basic necessities.

“Our goal is to help meet a person’s most pressing needs — paying the rent and keeping a roof over their head,” said Kim Smith-Moore, social impact lead for the Wells Fargo Foundation. “That goes hand in hand with helping them find a job, set up a budget, manage their finances, and develop their life skills. By strengthening individuals and families, these programs stabilize entire communities and equip them to emerge stronger from this pandemic.”

As Richmond’s largest community development nonprofit, BHC has 17 affordable housing communities across the region and more than 1,200 residents engaged in programs such as employment counseling and household budgeting, according to BHC data.

Jeff Edwards, a BHC career coordinator, said helping unemployed residents has a strong personal connection for him. Last year, when the pandemic hit, he lost his own job as a career advisor for a local technical college. A few months later, he was hired for his current role.

“Residents know I’ve been in the same boat recently, and that gives me real empathy for them,” he said. “It helps them understand I know where they are coming from and what they’re going through.”

A big weight is lifted

In his first conversation with Lee, Edwards knew he was talking to a go-getter — a quick study, who would learn everything she could and use it to find a new job so she could support herself and her five-year-old son Nasir. He coached her on resume writing, job interviewing, and the art of giving the right answers to key questions.

He also sent her job leads every week. They talked about the hopes, possibilities, dead ends, and frustrations. After nearly three months, Lee spied a mortgage services job that she felt just had to be for her, which would allow her to work from home so she could also take care of her son.

An interview followed. Later that day, Edwards’ phone rang at BHC, and Lee nearly shouted, “I got the job!”

“She was so excited, I could tell a big weight had been lifted from her,” he said. “I can tell you for a lot of people, being out of work for months can really set you back. But she was so motivated and determined. I knew nothing would hold her back.”

“Jeff was awesome,” Lee said. “He was always checking in to make sure things were being done accurately. He was consistently supportive during every part of the whole process. I couldn’t have asked for a better counselor, and I’ll always appreciate him for that.”