A door of opportunity leads to others: How Therese changed her prospects

February 9th, 2022
Therese Termilus and her daughter (Zoom screenshot)

Five years ago, Therese Termilus came to our Adult Learning Lab to pursue her GED. A year later, her daughter Medjina was born. “Medjina” means “gift of God” in Haitian Creole, which is Therese’s native language. Therese named her daughter after a close friend who was lost in the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

“My daughter gives me the power and hope to do what I need to do to push harder and succeed, no matter what,” said Therese, 34.

While Therese was pregnant with Medjina, the tremors in her own life became severe. Her troubled marriage was coming apart, and it would cause her to retreat to a shelter twice. First before Medjina was born, and then when she was a baby.

After the divorce in the spring of 2019, Therese and her daughter had to find a place to live quickly. They moved into a rental home shared with others. Therese had been working factory and other jobs, and thus could support herself and her daughter as she embarked on remaking her life and her future.

Though it would be a difficult journey, Therese did not have to do it alone. When she had enrolled in our Adult Learning Lab, she had begun working with Joe Lauchlan, the Lab Coordinator, and other Lab staff, and they became a key source of support for her. Joe, in particular, encouraged Therese through the hard times, and he connected her with opportunities to improve her finances and prospects. Therese’s own determination and diligence then turned those opportunities into accomplishments.

“I have come from being so low to achieving the American Dream,” Therese said. “I don’t know how to thank Joe and Southwest Solutions for everything they did to help me.”

As she began her post-divorce life, Therese did not have a credit history or a credit card. Lacking credit is a steep barrier to climbing the economic ladder and gaining wealth. So, Joe invited Therese to enroll in two programs to overcome this barrier: Lending Circles, which he oversees, and Twin Accounts, provided through our financial coaching program.

Lending Circles is a “social loan program” started by Mission Asset Fund that allows participants to pool funds and safely build credit through zero-interest loans. Twin Accounts is a year-long program, sponsored by LISC, that both builds credit and promotes savings. At the end of the year, matching funds are provided that must be used to open a secure credit card.

As a result of the two programs, Therese was able to establish good credit. She then leveraged this credit to finance buying a used car, which further enhanced her credit standing. She paid off the loan early. With reliable transportation, Therese could now look for better employment.

Therese worked with a career coach at Southwest Solutions to polish her resume and research job leads to improve her income.

Therese works incredibly hard. She currently holds two jobs. One as a home health caregiver. And the other as a waitress. Between the two jobs, she has been working about 75 hours a week. Her increased income allowed her to start saving to meet another goal: becoming a homeowner.

Therese’s new home

Last May, Therese took the free Homebuyer Education Workshop offered by Southwest Solutions.

“The class was very helpful in preparing me for everything that goes into buying a home” Therese said. “After the class, I felt confident and comfortable that I could do this.”

Locating a house she could afford in the west-side neighborhood she preferred was a challenge, but Therese was persistent in her search. Her persistence paid off. She found a three-bedroom home for $110,000, and closed recently, securing a mortgage through her own bank.

“I was so excited to get the home but couldn’t believe it would really happen until I actually got the keys, since getting a place of our own has been a struggle,” Therese said. “My daughter and I will now have privacy and peace of mind. I want to build equity and then use the money to pay for her college education.”

Therese herself aspires to get a college degree. First she must complete her GED, a goal that brought her to the Learning Lab initially, but which she had to postpone. Now that her life is in a stable and promising place, she intends to attain her GED this year.

“It will be good for my future and my daughter’s, too, to show her how important education is to fulfill your potential and achieve the career you want,” Therese said.

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