Several years ago, Latorria Woodard wasn’t where she wanted to be, but she knew she had something within herself to get there.
She was smart, motivated and a good worker.
But she couldn’t find a job. Her bills piled up. It was hard to get ahead.
Woodard had a lot of pride, and it was difficult for her to ask anyone for help. She thought she could do it on her own.
But Wilson Housing Authority officials noticed Woodard’s potential and reached out to her about participating in the federally-based Family Self-Sufficiency Program.
The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, allows WHA to work directly with people to set and attain goals that lead to employment and, ultimately, allow them to become self-sufficient and move out of supportive housing.
“I wanted to be self-sufficient,” Woodard said. “I had to swallow that pride and take the help I needed for myself and my children. I signed up for the program and it put everything in motion.”
The program isn’t a quick fix; it’s a five-year commitment.
But Woodard believed the program could be life-changing and propel her in the direction she wanted to go.
Woodard’s initial goal in the program was to find employment.
“At the time I wasn’t working,” she said. “I wanted to gain employment.”
She later found a part-time job, but she wanted something more concrete.
“I wanted something more consistent,” she said.
When she met with a WHA employee who helps guide participants in the program, the employee had a question.
“What do you want to do in life,” she asked Woodard.
Woodard thought about it and remembered how much she enjoyed working as a drug associate at Rite Aid when she was younger. “I like customers,” Woodard said. “I like the person-on-person interaction.”
That revelation led Woodard to a program at Wilson Community College. WHA helped Woodard get into continuing education classes, where she later completed her pharmacy technician training.
“Once you reach certain goals in the program you have to set more goals,” Woodard said.
She pressed on.
The Family Self-Sufficiency Program helps Section 8 and public housing recipients who pay monthly rental costs based on their income. The HUD grant allows the WHA to hire service coordinators who work with residents to help them find jobs and increase their income so they can become self-sufficient in order to move out of public housing.
They work to remove barriers and learn how to overcome those barriers, whether it be through education, unemployment, transportation or child care. WHA also works with community partners to help.
The program offers financial rewards for successful completion of the program. As participants find work, their public housing rent increases, but the WHA puts the additional rent cost into escrow. After families reach their goals and become self-sufficient, they receive the money set aside.
Those escrow funds have even helped participants put a down payment on a home.
Housing authority officials have continued to see many success stories of people who are now empowered and living out a better life because they not only believed in themselves but remained committed to the program.
Woodard said the financial gain is only one part of the program.
“It’s a boost of confidence and sets realistic goals for yourself,” she said. “Keeping my goals in line for not only the program but for myself in life.”
SETTING MORE GOALS
After completing the program at Wilson Community College, Woodard became aware that drug stores wanted pharmacy technicians certified by the state.
“I had to save my money. and the next year, I took the test and passed it on the first try,” Woodard said.
That state certification opened up more doors for employment. She landed a job at Walmart pharmacy where she has been working for nearly three years.
“I love what I do,” Woodard said, adding that she loves her pharmacy customers and her coworkers.
“I do know that I’m blessed.”
Woodard currently works at the Walmart Neighborhood Market Pharmacy on Ward Boulevard. And it’s evident how much she enjoys her job. She works with an infectious smile on her face.
While she completed the five-year program this summer, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t continue to push forward.
“I’m going to keep setting goals for myself,” she said.
‘YOU SEE YOUR GROWTH’
The Family Self-Sufficiency program now serves between 50 and 70 families annually. HUD funding is based on the level of participation. WHA recently landed another $59,500 from HUD that will continued to increase participation.
Woodard said the program also kept her grounded.
“Five years ago, I didn’t know I would need this,” she said. “It’s a great program. It’s pushing you to get what you can in five years.”
She said while five years might seem like a long commitment, it goes by fast. And each time you reach what you set out to do, it only drives you to do more.
“At the end of five years, you’ve gained,” she said. “In five years, you see what you’ve done and how far you’ve come. You see your growth.”
She went from unemployment, to a convenience store clerk barely making minimum wage to a job she loves making good money to support herself and her dreams.
Woodard said WHA officials through it all have been invaluable.
“They stand behind you,” she said. “What they can’t help you with, they will point you to someone who can. They propel you in the direction you want to go.”
PURPOSE AND A DREAM
Woodard, a single mom of two children, said the program has afforded various other things, including getting ahead on her bills, empowering her as a person and saving money for her next goal — building a home.
“The house I want is well in my reach,” she said, adding that she wants to build a house in the country and have space for her children to live and play freely.
“My dream is to own my house in two years,” she said. She continues to save for that dream. Woodard said the best part about program is that it shows her children how she never gave up, but pressed on despite any barrier thrown her way.
And patience is the key, she said.
“I’m not where I want to be, but I’m very far from where I used to be,” she said. “Once you reach certain goals in the program you have to set more goals. It’s all about God’s timing. Your purpose is going to be there. You have to believe in yourself. This program helps put the stepping stones in place for you to get there.”
‘DON’T STOP BELIEVING’
Five years ago, Woodard said she felt defeated.
“I was sitting there down and out and ready to give up,” she said.
Woodard said while she has completed the program, she will continue to utilize everything she learned and move forward with a next set of goals.
“I’m still striving,” she said. “I’m still saving.”
And Woodard has a little advice for those who may be in a similar situation she was in several years ago.
“Push yourself and utilize every resource and opportunity you can designed to help you,” she said. “Don’t give up. Don’t stop believing.”