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Lisván’s Story

I immigrated to the United States seven years ago from Cuba and settled in Portland. When I entered the country for the first time, I came as a refugee and had to navigate the entire system, from being a low-income person without authorization to work to beginning to build my life here, personally and professionally. I started by enrolling in an English class and then a business administration program. I went to Portland Community College and studied ESOL and graduated with a certificate in accounting in five years.

I have completed a wide range of jobs since I arrived here, from farm jobs to construction jobs to warehouse jobs. I also worked with a nonprofit that provides job services to people struggling with addiction and experiencing houselssness. After completing my certificate, I was able to enroll in an internship with Multnomah County in the appraisal department and was eventually offered a job. I just completed my exam to become a certified appraiser and here I am, working to better my career.

I was interested in a financial program that would provide me with retirement savings because since I came over here halfway through my work life—I was 36 years old—I needed it to create retirement savings. That’s when I was introduced to Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). I completed the retirement IDA savings program in three years, and it was an amazing experience that taught me a lot. I was highly supported and assisted throughout the process, and having savings for retirement gives me confidence and security.

Now, I’m in the middle of my second IDA program which is for first-time homebuyers. Being an American citizen, I want to live the dream and own my own home in Portland. I love the Pacific Northwest and I want to settle down here. I created my account and have been saving for six months. Owning my first house will be something significant in my life. I want to create my own space. I live with my children—a 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son—and my parents. By owning a home, I will be able to provide them with some security and comfort. It also gets me out of the trap of paying rent month-to-month without any assets.

With this homeownership IDA program, every dollar I put in is matched by five—that’s incredible. But there’s another part of this program that is very meaningful. For instance, the financial education that I receive that helps me learn how to manage my budget, manage my finances, be in control, manage my limited income and live stress-free. I’ve learned how the systems work—how the credit bureaus work, how the financial institutions work. Saving is important, but once you have those funds, you need to know how to put your money in the right places. Growing up, I didn’t have that education. It’s been amazing.

I advocate for others who face the same challenges that I do to enroll in the program. It’s not about your background or your race or your class or where you’re coming from—it’s about where you want to go.  And you deserve that opportunity. 

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