Ethel Rucker sees the world and her future through a much different lens these days.
“I am determined to break the generational curse of poverty,” said Ethel, 34. “My mother had taught me how to fill out a welfare application. I want to teach my kids how to fill out a college one.”
Ethel recently started her own photography business, called Hart Eclectic. One of her clients is COTS, a homeless shelter in Detroit. Ethel takes photos of families staying there. It’s a place that she knows firsthand.
“For many of them, this is the first real family photo they’ve had done,” said Ethel. ‘I tell them that I have been in your predicament before. Homelessness is just a snapshot in your life, and one day this image will remind you how far you’ve come.”
Ethel and her four kids stayed at COTS six years ago. She was struggling to make ends meet following a divorce, and she had exhausted other housing options.
The family left COTS after Ethel obtained a housing voucher with the assistance of Southwest Solutions’ Housing Resource Center. With stable housing, Ethel renewed her focus on building a career that would lead to self-sufficiency.
Last year, Ethel got a job as a creative designer at Rebel Nell, a social enterprise that makes wearable art from fallen pieces of graffitied walls. Rebel Nell hires women who’ve faced employment challenges because of life struggles.
Ethel also began to gather a network of support to help her achieve her economic and educational goals. One of the groups she decided to join is the Ladies League of Detroit (LLD), which helps women with personal and professional development. Knowing that its members often need to improve their credit, the LLD partnered with Southwest Solutions’ Lending Circles program, which is overseen by Joe Lauchlan.
Lending Circles is a “social loan program” started by Mission Asset Fund (MAF) that allows participants to safely build credit through zero-interest loans. Each participant in the particular group pitches in a certain amount of money each month, and the pool of funds is used to lend to each other. Because monthly payments are reported to credit bureaus, participants build their credit. Through her participation in the program last year, Ethel also connected with Brooke Ratliff, a financial coach at Southwest Solutions.
Brooke helped Ethel reduce past debts that were dragging down her credit. Between Lending Circles and the financial coaching, Ethel increased her credit score from around 400 to over 600.
“What makes Ethel such a great client is her drive,” Brooke said. “Once she sees a problem, she focuses on a solution and she’s not afraid to ask for help.”
Brooke also worked with COTS to combine some emergency funding to help Ethel pay off a delinquent utility bill and enable her to purchase a professional still camera to advance her talent and her aspiring business. With the camera, Ethel gained opportunities for freelance jobs, including taking photographs for the Rebel Nell website.
“I feel I’m on a path to true stability without any need for assistance to take care of our family,” Ethel said. “I enjoy being an entrepreneur. I’d like to get an MBA after I’m able to complete my bachelor’s degree.”
Ethel understands that realizing many of her goals requires having excellent credit. So she intends to participate in Lending Circles again as well as the Twin Accounts program offered through Southwest Solutions and sponsored by LISC. This program both builds credit and encourages savings.
Ethel also intends to take our Homebuyer Education class that enables participants to earn a certificate that’s needed to qualify for many homeownership incentive programs available for low to moderate income families.
“I’m planning for the future, and I want to leave my children and grandchildren something to help them get ahead and fulfill their dreams,” Ethel said.
If you would like to contact Ethel’s photography business, send a message through its Facebook page.