“That was the moment it just dawned on me: Oh my god, this is really working.”

David had been asked to speak at a celebration event for EMPath’s MassLEAP program. As he stood in front of the room at Quincy Housing Authority and shared his experiences in the program, his own words struck him in a new light.

“I remember I said out loud what my credit score was, what my job position was, how much debt I had. I was thinking about it in the back of my head, and then [as I was speaking] it just dawned on me how far I had come,” David recalls. The event was somewhat of an “aha” moment for him: “It drove me even more to make the most out of my final year and a half in the program.”

David had begun the MassLEAP program – a five-year program that brought EMPath’s economic mobility coaching to residents of the Braintree, Quincy, and Watertown Housing Authorities – three and a half years prior, in 2014. He was in a different place then, he says, and had a completely different perspective on life, especially when it came to finances. He was neglecting smaller bills and focusing only on larger ones, and wasn’t paying much attention to his spending. He was racking up credit card debt and his credit score was low. With ever-larger bills piling up, the small stuff seemed increasingly less important. He says his attitude was, “This bill is small, I don’t have to pay this, I have to pay the bigger stuff.”

With support from his EMPath mentor Megan, David began seeing the benefit of small financial steps that would eventually lead him to accomplish larger goals. He began paying smaller bills on time rather than putting them off. He created a budget and strategized with Megan about how to be more strategic around his spending. Slowly, over time, his credit score began to rise.

David also worked with Megan on advancing in his company. He had been working at Coca Cola for years and hoped to move into a managerial role within the company. When he discovered he lacked the computer skills necessary for a higher-up position, he and Megan created a new goal for him to acquire some of those skills. He watched YouTube videos and took classes on EdX to learn Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other programs that had previously “seemed so foreign to me.” David soon moved around to a number of different roles in the company, strategizing with Megan on how he could gain more skills to continue advancing. After several moves up and around the company, he landed an important supervisor position, which he still holds today.

“The position I’m in now, it’s a position I could only have dreamed about back in June of 2014 when I started this program,” David shares.

The earned incentives EMPath provides participants as recognition for completing a goal was a big boost for David’s family as well. “It helped us out a lot,” he shares. “At the time, my wife wasn’t working, my kids were still in school. So it was tough. Everything was going towards rent, bills, and trying to get things caught up while keeping food on the table.”

MassLEAP’s escrow initiative was also key to helping David grow his finances. The way the initiative worked, as David’s rent went up as his income increased (as is the case for anyone receiving MRVP vouchers or Section 8 housing), the MA Department of Housing and Community Development would deposit the difference between his new rent his old rent into a savings account. With this money, David and his wife Cheryl were able to pay old medical bills and pay off a credit card that was maxed out.

The MassLEAP program came to an end in August 2019 – but David’s progress did not. His work over the years to move up in his company, pay off debt, save money, and increase his credit score paved the way for him to accomplish one of his ultimate long-term goals – in August 2020, he and Cheryl purchased their first house.

“This is something that Cheryl and I have always dreamed of,” David wrote to his former mentors when sharing the news.

David says he appreciated the accountability Megan provided as his mentor, and the fact that the program moved at participants’ own speed.

“They weren’t just throwing everything going zero to 60 right down your throat – ok now you’re doing this, now you’re doing that,” he explains. “I already have a job. I didn’t need another job where I’m gonna worry about, ‘oh I gotta get this done for Megan, oh my god.’ It wasn’t like that at all. It was something that I wanted to do because I started to realize what I was getting back from it.

While David credits Megan with “changing his mindset on things,” he says she would always remind him that he was the one accomplishing goals. “She [would say], ‘Listen, you’re doing this. You have to give yourself some credit.’ And I do. After a while, it was easier to give myself more credit.”

David says he had a “closed mindset” before joining MassLEAP. “Being down here [in the housing authority], it just seemed like it was a hole you just couldn’t dig yourself out of,” he explains. He points to systemic barriers in place that make it extremely difficult for people to move out of public housing and become self-sufficient – such as monthly limits on overnight guests, which affects residents’ child care options, and policies that cause residents’ rent to go up as their income increases (what’s known as the “cliff effect.”) As David describes it, “it almost feels like you’re getting penalized for getting ahead.”

While in MassLEAP, David got involved in EMPath’s Speakers Bureau to advocate for policy changes to address issues like these. He had a chance to meet his state representative and speak to legislators at a number of events.

Flash forward to today. After living in Quincy public housing for nearly 20 years, David and Cheryl couldn’t be more thrilled about their new home – and neither could their three children. When Cheryl drove past the new house to show it to their 20-year-old son, he told her to “Wait a minute, wait a minute, slow down.”

“He’s looking behind and he goes, ‘There’s no houses like right behind us?’” David recounts. “And it’s like, no. There’s a house on either side of us and then there’s the neighbors across the street, but there’s woods behind us. To have him just make a comment like that…”

“[Quincy Housing Authority] is all [my kids] know, where your neighbors are right on top of you. We’re kinda limited here, we got a cement yard. Now we’re moving to a house with a fenced-in yard in the back that’s totally ours. We are all just so excited.”

David continues, “Ultimately as a parent, we want to set examples and be role models for our children. Where I was [before MassLEAP], I didn’t think I was doing that. But then [once I was in the program], my kids would come home from school and I would be at the kitchen table or on the couch having the computer up, my earbuds in, doing some of the work Megan had me doing, my own homework. I think the kids saw that and were like, ‘Wow look at Dad. He’s really taking this thing seriously.’”

Looking ahead, David plans to keep up his healthy financial habits, settle into his new home, and continue pitching in his softball league on the weekends. “I want to continue to be an example for my kids and do the best that I can to continue living a nice happy life.”

Claire's Story

When the pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill in spring 2020, many people hunkered down and resigned themselves to Netflix and TikTok. Not Claire.