For many families, the prospect of buying their first home is a daunting but exciting process. They look forward to exploring neighborhoods, visiting prospective homes and eventually finding the one that's the perfect fit for them. For Ian and Sarah Kennedy, however, buying a home wasn't exciting as much as it was stressful and seemingly impossible.
The Kennedy's 16-year-old daughter, Maddie, has disabilities, which often caused her to struggle in the family's small, three-bedroom apartment in Lebanon, Indiana, a community of about 15,000 people 30 miles northwest of Indianapolis. The apartment simply was not wheelchair-accessible. Maddie wasn't able to access some rooms, including the kitchen, which limited the activities the family could do together. Making changes to the property to improve accessibility wasn't an option, because the Kennedys rented the apartment.
Despite their dreams of purchasing their own home, it seemed like a financial impossibility for the single-income family. Fate forced the Kennedys' next move. The apartment complex where they lived was sold, and the neighborhood began to deteriorate quickly. Ian and Sarah knew they had to do something to improve the quality of life for Maddie and ensure their safety, but they were unsure about next steps.
A niece who works for the HomeOwnership Center of Pathfinder Services told them her organization might be able to help. Pathfinder, a NeighborWorks network member in Huntington, Indiana, provides a range of programs and services to help people facing physical, developmental or economic challenges achieve independence, inclusion and stability.
After reaching out to the Pathfinder HomeOwnsership Center and talking to the staff, the Kennedys began to realize that owning their own home might actually be within their reach. Ian completed the homebuyer education workshop, which follows the NeighborWorks "Realizing the American Dream" curriculum. It provided him with all of the steps needed to buy a home. Once their paperwork was complete, Ian and Sarah were surprised to learn they not only could afford to own a home, but their mortgage would be $150 less than their monthly rent payment.
During its last fiscal year, Pathfinder helped 151 families purchase homes. According to the organization, about 110 of those families obtained the same U.S. Department of Agriculture loan the Kennedys used to purchase their home.
"Many families have similar stories to the Kennedys," says Justin Barker, director of Pathfinder's HomeOwnership Center. "They are working families who struggle with down payments or young families with loads of student debt. Many are single-parent, single-income households."
"The staff at the Pathfinder HomeOwnership Center kept an open line of communication with us," says Ian Kennedy. "They provided us with realistic time estimates and were pleasant and patient with all of our questions. They made the process easy, and they were always there for us."
Barker explains: "Our team offers a comprehensive approach for families. When they sign up for our program, we quickly assess where they're at. We then create a customized plan with specific steps to get them to the point where they're ready to purchase. Whether they're ready when they start with us or they have a lengthy road of credit work and savings to do, we stay with them. As long as they are willing to put in the hard work, we will be right beside them—coaching, counseling, educating and otherwise doing what it takes to get them financed."
Now, the Kennedys have a new, three-bedroom ranch home with plenty of room for Maddie to move around in her wheelchair, allowing her to be a part of everyday family activities. The home, which is about 50 years old but was completely renovated prior to the Kennedys' purchase, also offers enough space for friends and family to visit, which was something that was rarely possible in their cramped apartment. Ian says he and Sarah enjoy landscaping their corner lot, which is located in a friendly neighborhood. The family is looking forward to the holidays and the first Christmas in their new home.
"The Pathfinder HomeOwnership Center made the impossible a reality," Ian says. "Maddie has access to the entire home and we also feel safe for the first time in years."