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Mustard Seed Development Center

Two women hugging
Mustard Seed CEO Toree Stokes hugs one of her clients, Gabrielle.

Linda was living the American dream. She had a stable job and owned a home, but disaster struck.

An injury on the job forced her out of work and onto disability. But the checks ran out, and her injury limited her work prospects. Soon, she couldn't afford her medications, was driving without auto insurance and risked losing her home. 

It's a common story in the recent economic climate. And, like many people in her shoes, Linda was hesitant to share her financial woes. "I was embarrassed," she admits. "I didn't think I'd be here at this point in my life." 

After confiding in a friend, Linda discovered Mustard Seed Development Center, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers local residents with comprehensive financial, credit and housing counseling. 

A $30,000 grant from Akron Community Foundation helped the group serve 170 new clients like Linda: Summit County residents who want to become financially viable but, because they don't have dependent children, can't get government funding to do so. 

Toree Stokes, Mustard Seed's executive director, said she wants to help these residents become financially empowered and self-sufficient, which first requires managing their debt. She explained that many people don't even know how much debt they have. With the cost of utilities and household items exceeding many clients' income, their debt only gets worse.

Through Mustard Seed's Financial Management and Homeownership Program, each participant receives a financial action plan to increase their income, establish savings and repay debt. Mustard Seed administrators negotiate feasible repayment plans with creditors and monitor clients' credit files to ensure they make their payments. 

Home-buying seminars are the next step. Mustard Seed works with lenders to help clients establish and maintain positive credit and secure home loans within three years. While aggressive, the approach is successful. Mary Anderson, an Iraqi War veteran, said she now owns and lives in a Kenmore duplex, renting the other side for income. "I've always wanted to own property," she said. "Buying a home is the best investment you can make."

With past foundation funding, Mustard Seed served more than 175 such clients in a single year. Of those, 158 established and are living within budgets, 95 are paying off outstanding debt, 21 are debt-free, and 26 have prevented foreclosure. 

Linda is one of those people hoping to keep her home. With Mustard Seed, she has peace of mind that she's not in it alone. "Now it's not just me going through it," she said.

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