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Paying It Forward: Nancy’s Story

Nancy Alonso is no stranger to the unexpected.  The Southern California native has faced more than her share of challenging and tragic storms.  Through them all she’s kept moving forward, a captain doing what she must to steer ahead with her two children in tow.

Nancy’s story, at its core, illustrates how the financial system can distort itself into shackles on the dreams of hard-working people.  It also shows how community can be the key to set them free.

Since having their first child when Nancy was 21, she and her husband had dove headfirst into the race of life.  

They stretched each dollar to the next month’s paycheck, sometimes, making it through with breathing room. Most often, though, there were hurdles to overcome. Should they pay for the latest medical bill or the week’s groceries? 

Nancy and her husband both worked hard, and both hustled to make ends meet. He would pick up cardboard outside his cousin’s restaurant to sell. She would take their two kids’ outgrown clothes to the flea market for extra cash. They did what they had to.

Yet far beyond the edges of the next immediate hurdle, a horizon of dreams beckoned them ever forward. Nancy and her husband saw a house of their own nestled on that horizon. One day, they knew, she’d leave her retail job to work as a medical assistant. Then they’d be able to breathe not only on occasion, but all the time. Day by day, year by year, they continued pushing ahead knowing that with each other no hurdle was too big.

Then, on October 9th, 2019, Nancy received a call from the hospital.

One month later, her husband had passed away.

In a daze, Nancy moved back in with her parents in San Ysidro as the world moved in slow motion around her. The shock gripped her as she shared a bunk bed with her son, entered the COVID-19 pandemic and helped her family through her father’s stroke in June 2020. Slowly, she began to pick up the shards of her broken life and build a new mosaic of her future.

Her husband, it turned out, had a modest life insurance policy. She’d never known about it because they never spoke about finances. Now, at last, she could afford to buy a home. But when she went to a lender to discuss a mortgage, she found out she had a poor credit score and couldn’t qualify. She’d never looked into her credit so this, too, was devastating news.  

Nancy was stuck. 

The financial system that had never been more than an afterthought was now the moat standing between her and a lifelong dream.  She even looked into private apartments to get back on her feet.  These, however, all required 2-3x income to rent ratios and she was not able to fill the salary gap her husband had left.  Her kids still needed to be cared for and her previous medical assistant program had been less credible than she’d hoped.  Nancy was finally at the doorstep of possibility, yet the hurdle holding her back was one of the biggest she’d faced. And this time, she was alone.

“That’s when someone told me about Casa Familiar,” Nancy recounted. “They mentioned a program to help me improve my credit score. But they are so much more.”

Casa Familiar, a San Diego-based community services organization, brought Nancy to one of their first Lending Circle programs.  

She joined an LC to raise her score and was quickly able to do so. After three months, Nancy raised her credit score by 118 points. 

Then she started asking questions. And the Casa Familiar team had answers. They helped Nancy access Social Security funds she’d never known about, shared resources on financial planning and helped schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for her parents.

“Every little thing I ask, they help me,” she glowed. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Today, Nancy is on track to increase her credit score enough to qualify for a mortgage and is working to secure a job as a medical assistant.

Even though her husband is not with her, she carries on the dreams they’d held together, moving day after day toward the horizon they’d seen so clearly. There are still many hurdles to overcome, and Nancy is resolute that none will stop her. After all, she’s not alone.

“Mariana at Casa Familiar called to tell me she had a surprise,” Nancy shared. “Because I’ve been making all my payments on time, she gave me a bonus of $500 from a Kaiser grant. I cried because I was able to help out my parents more. For all the bad things that have happened to us, good things have happened too.”

Nancy continues asking questions, learning how to navigate a new world while passing on hard-won knowledge to her children, 17 and 13. In this way, she hopes, they will have a head start on the race of life she’d sprinted through for so long. 

Regardless, the children already possess an invaluable gift of their own; grit and steel determination to chase after dreams. This inheritance was passed down by Nancy and her husband, together.