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From shelter to homeowner: LSS Steps 2 Success client overcomes the odds

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Brenda Jones standing in front of her home constructed by HabiJax. Jones has also been a Steps 2 Success client since 2018. (Image source: First Coast News)

Brenda Jones considers herself a lifelong student. She grew up in the fishing town of Mayport in Jacksonville and was an avid reader. The way she kept and wrote in her journals fitted her as a “professional student.” She kept up the habit of note-taking and self-study throughout her life.

Now, at 70, she recently closed her first home as a first-time homeowner, a triumph that Brenda didn’t think was possible for her.

“I was financially illiterate,” Brenda said. She added that she had felt ashamed for not knowing more about financial planning.

At one point in her life, she was in and out of living in shelters, all while raising her children. As her children grew up, entered their professions and owned their own homes, Brenda knew that she wanted to do better in life.

In 2018, she and her friend attended a presentation at the Center for the Prevention of Health Disparities located in Edward Waters College. That’s where she met Stewart Miller who was talking about the Steps 2 Success program and how it coached its clients to thrive financially.

“God sent this program to me,” she said as she reflected back on first joining Steps 2 Success.

At 66, she soon enrolled in S2S. One of the first things she did with her coach was run a credit report. Through the program, Brenda learned she had poor credit and that was one of the first things to work on toward the path of financial empowerment. Now after four years of being in Steps 2 Success, her credit score is just shy of 800.

At the time, Brenda was depending on her retirement income, but it was not enough to allow her to escape the cycle of debt. She also wanted a new car.

Brenda said she was “trained to stick with [the program].”

Upon enrollment, Barbara’s financial coach analyzed her spending habits with her. Together, they built a budget for her retirement income that would not only keep her from incurring additional debt, but help her pay off existing debt.

Brenda decided to go back into the workforce to increase her net income further, pay off her debt faster and start saving for the car, and the future.

Brenda’s background was in early learning as a VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten) teacher. Her career coach helped her update her resume and practice her interview skills, and she quickly found a job at a private daycare.

“I went from having no money to having savings,” Brenda said.

She was able to buy that new car with cash, and made real progress in eliminating her debt.

In the midst of the pandemic, Brenda thought it was time to pursue the dream of homeownership. With the guidance of her Steps 2 Success coach, Brenda got connected with the HabiJax Homeownership program.

She had put in her 200 hours of sweat equity toward the home.

“There are a lot of people that want to help, and HabiJax has been there to help,” she said in a December 2022 interview with First Coast News as the crew filmed the progress of construction.

“Without Steps 2 Success. I would not have thought of having a home,” she said.

On March 17th, all of her hard work finally paid off when she closed on her home.

But for Brenda Jones, she is only getting started. She hopes to eventually open her own VPK business.

To learn more about Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, click here.

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