A year ago, Jonah West found himself as close to rock bottom as it gets: homeless, jobless, and carrying the crushing burden of student loan debt with no degree to show for it. Despairing, he thought, “I don’t know where to begin; I don’t know what to do.” But in the midst of his hopelessness, he realized, “There was nobody else to really advocate for you but yourself. You can either sit here and cry about it or you can do something about it.”
Jonah chose option two and has been proactive in improving his life ever since. He found shelter and got on food stamps immediately, and soon entered the FareStart job training program, which he explains “uses cooking as the mechanism to teach you employment skills, life skills.” Through FareStart, he connected with Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston, when she held a workshop there on the basics of budgeting, savings and credit repair.
He says, “I got really excited about it, because my financial past has been quite wrecked. I learned to ignore it, because I figured I wasn’t going to be able to go any further with my life. And so hearing her presentation opened my eyes that there was hope, and gave me hope to fix the damage that I’ve done, which I thought was unfixable.”
Working with Judy in one-to-one coaching sessions, he now sees a new future. After coming to terms with the state of his credit rating – “the size and the amount” of his debt – he says, “Judy’s made it a reality to bring it down, and get it fixed, and just work slowly, piece by piece. It might not be as quick as I want it. But now that I have seen it, and I’m not ignoring it, I’m making it a priority in my life to fix it.”
“At this point, I’m just trying to figure out a way to pay down the debt enough so I can fix my credit, get back into college, get the career that I want, and be able to pay it off completely.”
He says, “There was not just the student debt, but a bunch of little things too. So we divided those two parts in half, chunking away at the little things first, but then slowly but surely, working on the student loan part. She’s made it so that I am present with what I’m doing. I’m making decisions appropriately with my finances; I’m not just throwing my money away anymore. Judy’s drawn out a map of how to repair the damage that I’ve done. She can’t make me do it, but she’s given me the opportunity to do it.”
Judy also connected Jonah with Solid Ground Board member John Babauta at HomeStreet Bank, enabling him to open a bank account again after several years without one. “They’ve provided me the support I needed to protect me from me – like no over-drafting allowed. I can’t dip into my savings; I literally have to go over to the branch and have a reason to go into my savings account, which is really great. Now I have a solid foundation of where to keep and how to protect my money.
“At this point, I’m just trying to figure out a way to pay down the debt enough so I can fix my credit, get back into college, get the career that I want, and be able to pay it off completely. I want to be more than a waiter; I don’t want to be a lifer in the restaurant industry. I want more out of life. I want to get my CPA license and improve my credit score within five years. That’s what Solid Ground’s helped me out with. Because before, I had no idea what to do, nowhere to go; I didn’t know how to do anything. And now I have hope.”
Judy says that not all of her clients are as proactive as Jonah, a quality he says he inherited from his mother: “She doesn’t back down. She’s very persistent, and she stands up for herself when the moment calls for it. So I stand up for myself when the moment calls for it – and right now, that’s standing up for my financial freedom.”
He adds, “I’m very hopeful that in the next five years, there will be no resemblance of where I’m at today. I’m going to be in a much better place, and I just gotta be patient. And with the right support, it’s great to know that I’m not going to be a waiter when I’m 40. It took me from 20 to 30 to mess it all up, 31 to 40 to fix it, and from 40 on, have a good life. My future’s brighter; I’m very happy for that.”