Education has always been important for Lissuannette Rivera Mercado. Despite giving birth to her daughter before she finished high school, she earned her diploma and completed three years of college. But when she took on a full-time job to help her parents move into better housing, push came to shove. She almost failed a semester, and decided to put her schooling on hold.
Although her husband also worked, neither knew how to manage their money well. Utilities were sometimes shut off, and they lived paycheck to paycheck as they worked to make ends meet.
Lack of experience and language skills kept Lissuannette — who moved to the United States with her family when she was 11 — working in different factories.
“I felt no appreciation at all,” Lissuannette said. After her supervisor raised her voice at her again, she came home with a new plan.
“I came home that day and I told my husband, ‘I know that I can do more than this. I’m going back to college,’” she said.
A year later, she graduated with her associate’s degree. Lissuannette had also developed her customer service, interpretation, and referral skills working at a cellphone store, and parlayed that experience into an AmeriCorp contract with CASA.
“At this point I was already making progress,” Lissuannette shared. “But I continued having financial issues.”
She applied for a coaching position with Community Progress Council, and through her orientation, met with team members to learn about the services and resources available to the community.
“I learned about the programs for my clients and for myself,” Lissuannette said, programs including the Take Charge of Your Money and the Pathway to Homeownership workshops through Community Progress Council’s Housing and Financial Education program.
“The goal of becoming homeowners in my and my husband’s minds was very, very, very far,” she said. “We did not know how to see our finances differently.”
But the workshop tools and Lissuannette’s discipline and hard work paid off. Together, Lissuannette and her husband and their housing counselor developed a budget action plan and moved through step by step. In a year, they had saved more than $25,000 and increased their credit score by nearly 200 points.
“I never thought in my life that I would have that amount in my bank account,” Lissuannette said. “I was so grateful for that. We followed all the instructions that the workshop showed us.”
Community Progress Council helped Lissuannette connect with Realtors, lenders, and seek pre-approval for their loan. She and her husband purchased a house in Dover with a big backyard, and celebrated Lissuannette’s birthday with a cake in front of their home.
“Getting Ahead in A Just-Gettin’-By World,” a CPC program where participants investigate how poverty affects their lives and their communities, was another “eye-opener” for Lissuannette.
“[Self-sufficiency] is about housing, finances, but it’s also the importance of social capital,” Lissuanette said. “You can be broke, you can be in a crisis, but if you have relationships, you know that person is going to help you out.”
Being surrounded by people that support her, and relying on her faith have kept Lissuannette hopeful and motivated throughout her journey.
“I believe that we were created with the ability to develop, master, and manage all necessary areas that will empower us to achieve our objectives and goals,” she said.
As she continues to work with Community Progress Council, she wants to develop her leadership and communication skills, and share the knowledge she has gained.
“When I learn something, I feel the necessity to share it,” she said. “I don’t want to keep it to myself.”
More specifically, Lissuannette recognizes the importance of support from someone who can speak the same language. She has begun sharing resources and motivation through social media, targeting Spanish-speaking families and others in her community. And of course, she’s able to do the same in her role as a coach at Community Progress Council’s Community of Hope.
“When they are struggling trying to explain themselves because they are in a crisis, to see the people who speak the same language as you, they feel a relief,” Lissuannette says. “I feel very good that I am able to help my community.”
Her knowledge-sharing continues at home with her daughter, now 12, and her two other children, as she educates them about finances, savings, and credit.
“I want her to, when she finishes high school, to have credit, to buy a car or whatever,” Lissuannette said. “Everything is possible. We just need the right mindset and tools.”