Building the American Dream Requires a Foundation in Strong Communities

When Floodwaters Rise, Fahe Members Answer the Call to Render Aid and Rebuild their Communities
May 27, 2021

By Supporting Robust Local Workforces and Attainable Pathways to Home Ownership, Fahe is Building Strong Communities Together Every Day with Partners like NeighborWorks America

The work of supporting prosperous, strong communities lies at the heart of Fahe’s mission to help every family in Appalachia build their American Dream.  While each family faces its own unique set of circumstances and challenges, Fahe Members see firsthand how many of the same obstacles to stable, prosperous futures often afflict entire communities in ways that both transcend and typify the experience of any one person or household.  Neighbors who share the same Appalachian geography frequently find that they also encounter similar struggles in securing sustainable and livable employment, affordable medical care, opportunity-empowering skills and workforce trainings, and accessible financial pathways to home ownership.  The key, then, for each family to unlock the promise of their American Dream is inextricably linked to the shared fortunes and opportunities of their neighbors and their community at large. 

Confronting such pervasive issues of community and regional-level scale requires a coordinated intervention beyond what any single organization can offer alone. As Fahe President and CEO Jim King often reminds fellow community developers, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, then go with friends.” While this foundational principle guides every step of the Fahe Network’s strength-in-numbers approach with our Members, it also serves as the underpinning philosophy of our enduring partnership with NeighborWorks America (NWA).  In celebration of our joint efforts to uplift the lives of every family that calls Appalachia home, Fahe is taking a deeper look at two essential NeighborWorks-supported interventions that are helping communities transform hardship into hope and opportunity.  

Building Wealth and Prosperity through Attainable Pathways to Rural Home Ownership

Perhaps one of the most important central tenants of Fahe’s mission can be found in our Network’s efforts to build community prosperity by helping families access quality homes that they can afford.  For those living in isolated and underinvested rural communities, this can seem like an insurmountable challenge.  Many such areas lack a competitive selection of attainable mortgage financing options, and the handful of commercial banks serving rural communities often find little financial incentive to extend riskier, low-principal loans to disadvantaged families who may struggle to repay the lender under traditional interest and payment structures.  However, with the help of the USDA Section 502 Direct Loan Program and Fahe’s partnership with NeighborWorks, these families can access uniquely-tailored mortgage options outside of the confines of traditional bank financing or commercial credit markets.

Centered on affordability and adaptable repayment structures that help position borrowers for long-term success, USDA 502 Direct Loans offer low-income families living in rural areas a real opportunity to achieve the dream of home ownership. These federally-backed mortgage options allow for 100% financing under reasonable interest terms for qualifying families and eliminate costly down-payment barriers to ordinary loans.

Personal testaments to the transformative power of the 502 Direct Loan program are not difficult to find. For instance, take the story of Kayla Lester, a single mom who just couldn’t get a break. After moving to Richmond, KY from rural Pike County in 2018, a costly car accident left Kayla, while unhurt, jobless and verging on eviction.

After being referred to Fahe Member Kentucky River Foothills Development Council, Kayla was accepted to Bluegrass Community Technical College with the encouragement of her case worker. As a single parent facing housing insecurity, she was able to enroll in the Eastern Scholar House, a collaboration with KRFDC, Fahe, and other partners supporting young parents pursuing a higher education. There, Kayla persisted in her studies with the help of a range of essential services including safe housing, free on-site childcare, and accessible tutoring and skills trainings.

Following her graduation in 2020, Kayla applied her education to secure stable employment at a local hospital. With the financial security to start building a future for her family, she was finally ready to buy a home of her own. Working with JustChoice Lending, Fahe’s mortgage division, Kayla became a successful homeowner through the 502 Direct Loan Program, a stunning turnaround from her near-brush with homelessness only two years earlier.

Kayla and her daughter in front of their home.
Kayla, her daughter, and Fahe’s Kodi Mullins.

Extending specialized lines of credit to 502-eligible borrowers takes skilled financial professionals with expertise in local community development.  Fahe and our participating Members in the 502 program work with families like Kayla’s to prepare relevant documents, verify eligibility and application processing requirements, and ensure complete and comprehensive packaging before sending mortgage applications over to the USDA. However, this unique service requires lending personnel to undergo and complete continuing education trainings and obtain certain mandatory certifications. With the help of our NeighborWorks America partnership, many of Fahe Members are able to access these housing counseling trainings and certification courses though Fahe and NWA, either as an individual or as an organization. In fact, Fahe hosted one of the first 502 packaging place-based training courses at the Fahe Annual Meeting in Kingsport, TN in 2009. 

Thanks to this joint collaboration of shared information and resources, Fahe and our participating Members have been able to help Kayla and countless other families build prosperous futures and long-term wealth in their own back yards.  With so many stories like these, the 502 Direct Loan program has proven itself as an indispensable tool for channeling much-needed investments into lower-income households that would otherwise be overlooked by traditional commercial lenders.

Supporting Robust Local Workforces through Addiction Recovery Solutions

While expanding access to home ownership is an essential component to help families build their American Dream, a comprehensive approach to bolster strong communities as a whole also necessitates investing in long-term skills to help workers take advantage of stable employment opportunities.  That’s why NeighborWorks supports Fahe’s restorative initiative to heal opioid-impacted local workforces and equip recovering individuals with valuable employability skills to help them rejoin their local workplaces.

Dubbed the Transformational Employment program, this Fahe-led enterprise seeks to pair people in recovery with local businesses for an eight-month internship that focuses on building hands-on skills through work-based learning opportunities. Funded by a POWER grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission, these paid interns are matched with participating employers across Harlan, Jackson, Knox, Laurel, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Bell, Clay, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, and Whitley counties in Kentucky. 

To encourage business participation and offset any additional potential costs to employers, Fahe covers the salary expenses for the intern, along with $200 per month in additional paid benefits. The employer likewise receives a one-time $1,000 stipend combined with $200 in compensation for training costs. The Transformational Employment program further supports interns through partnerships with local recovery service providers and offers mentorships to support participating employers.

Fahe Member HOMES, Inc. in Whitesburg, Kentucky currently hosts three such interns through the Transformational Employment program.  When Executive Director Seth Long first heard about the program, he was excited about its potential to combat the effects of the opioid epidemic and help people build lasting opportunity for themselves. As Long puts it, “If we can make a difference in just one life, then the effort will be worth it.”

Transformational Employment Intern James at a HOMES, Inc. build site.

The program is already producing life-altering dividends for its interns.  Before being accepted into the program, James described his work background as dabbling in “a little bit of everything.”  As a Transformational Employment intern with HOMES, his building crew works on new construction projects and rehabs older homes and dilapidated rentals, often for the benefit of elderly members in the community. James explained that the support system and role models that HOMES provides has been crucial to his success as an intern. He noted that even if he later moves on to work elsewhere after completing his internship, he knows he will walk away with valuable job skills that can anchor him to a steady workplace in a competitive and lasting role.

As Fahe celebrates its partnership with NeighborWorks America this week, we’re reminded that the daunting task of reversing decades of disinvestment and economic neglect for so many overlooked communities in Appalachia may seem overwhelming for any one person or group.  However, with the help of such dedicated allies and partners, there is hope for the Fahe Network, including the many Fahe Members who also count on the critical support and services offered by NWA, to successfully build stronger communities together every day.  As USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the 502 Direct Loan program, succinctly puts it, “People working together in a strong community with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible.” Thanks to NeighborWorks’s support and partnership, our Network is deploying impactful initiatives through the 502 and Transformational Employment programs and making real progress on a vision that promises to make the American Dream a reality for every community.

Sarah Weintraub
Sarah Weintraub
Sarah Weintraub
Sarah Weintraub serves as Fahe's Policy and Communications AmeriCorps Member through the Appalachia CARES program. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Amherst College. In her free time, she can be found reading or exploring the outdoors.

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