Lutheran Child and Family Services helps people find 'Ways to Work'

Getting back in gear

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Tikisha Ellis is a 26-year-old single, working mom from Oak Park who, thanks to Lutheran Child and Family Services' Ways to Work program, is repairing her credit rating by qualifying for, and paying off, a low-interest car loan.

Earlier this year, she purchased a 2002 Buick LaSabre and says owning it is enabling her to shift her own life, and that of 6-year-old daughter Faith, back into gear.

Since March of 2011, Jose J. Miranda, the Ways to Work loan coordinator at LCFS, says he has been helping lower-income working families whose credit rating is impaired and who seek him out to help fix it.

The innovative financial empowerment initiative, he says, was created and launched by the Milwaukee, Wis.-based Ways to Work Inc., a nonprofit organization.

To date, the Ways to Work "franchise" is available in 22 states, including Illinois, where it is co-administered by LCFS and the Salvation Army.

In two years' time, Miranda and Sara LoCoco, LCFS's director of marketing and communications, say 76 participants have qualified to receive a loan of $6,000 at an 8 or 9 percent interest rate.

With it they have purchased a used car from a participating dealership. The structured re-payment plan is about $220 a month.

"This program's main priority is to help people achieve self sufficiency," Miranda says, "and this is one of the steps in helping them do that."

Another measure he employs is requiring every participant to attend a two-hour seminar at a local bank where he provides credit counseling, including household budgeting tips.

"This is not a traditional loan program, per se, in that I do not have an underwriting department, and I personally present every applicant's information, anonymously, to a loan committee of eight or nine people. So the committee has no idea who is applying here except just the basic information which is supplied by each individual applicant," Miranda says.

Ellis' credit score tumbled when she used credit cards instead of cash to help her nuclear family stay afloat in hard times. Since then, she has been diligently working to repair it.

So earlier this year, after months of enduring a complicated commute, sans car, Ellis turned to Facebook for a few sympathetic "likes" and possibly a lead.

"One of my girlfriends said, 'I have a great place for you where you can go and check out getting a loan to purchase a used car. It's Lutheran Child and Family Services," Ellis recalls.

Wanting to make an indelible impression, Ellis personally delivered her documents to Miranda, which provided also provided him with a personal story and a face.

"When she came to me," he recalls, "Tikisha was very forthright, giving me every bit of information about her situation … how this loan was going to help her, and what she was going to do differently in the future if she received it."

For her, it only took a couple of weeks to get everything rolling, Miranda adds.

Now, Ellis is in the driver's seat again. She is completing a degree in business administration at Harold Washington College, arriving on time to work, and using her new licensure in school services and sanitation management to find a higher paying job, which she hopes will spark an opportunity to realize her dream of owning an organic soul food restaurant.

"As a car, it is very reliable, and when I took it to see a friend, she said, 'Heck, isn't this the car you said you were going to get one day?' And I thought about it and had to say, well, yes, it is," she says, smiling.

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