Like many Americans swept under by the Great Recession, Cynthia Lyles found herself out of work, her savings gone, bills piling up and creditors calling.
"I just didn't want to lose my home," said Lyles, her eyes welding with tears. "I tried finding employment everywhere and was willing to do just about anything. I found myself competing with everybody on the unemployment line."
That's the reality facing the 49 year-old mother of three after her position as a human resource coordinator at a local casino was eliminated in 2010. It was a position she held for 5 ½ years.
For Lyles and many others in the same quandary, finding employment is not for lack of marketable job skills. Her resume shows previous positions as Assistant to the Dean at Purdue University Calumet and Assistant Director of Donor Relations at the University of Chicago. Her experience also includes grant writing, marketing and development and working with non-profits.
"Many employers told me that I was 'over-qualified,'" she said shaking her head. "There have been many times that I felt overwhelmed. Being unemployed is bad enough, but dealing with bill collectors and the added threat of foreclosure, the stress is unbelievable."
But instead of losing her modest home on Hammond's eastside, her family was able to stay put, thanks to a state program created in response to the foreclosure crisis facing many people like Lyles, who are unemployed through no fault of their own.
Under Indiana's Hardest Hit Fund Unemployment Bridge to Recovery Program, the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network will cover a portion of principal, interest, taxes and insurance (PITI) for eligible unemployed homeowners while they search for re-employment, utilize training through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, or serve the community through United Way Regional Volunteer Center.
She found out about the program by reading about an article in The Times.
"I was so excited. I went to the website, filled out the online application, assembled the needed documentation and within two days I got a phone call. I was assigned a counselor who provided me with more details about how the program works," Lyles smiled.
So far, according to Shirley Cecil, Communications Liaison with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, the program has helped 80 families in northern Indiana from having their homes seized by foreclosure.
Last November, Lyles was offered a chance to help promote the Hardest Hit Fund, along with other program initiatives at the United Way Regional Volunteer Center. "At first I was afraid to go out into the different communities and share my story," said Lyles. "I didn't know how I would deal with the stigma of it all. I had to remind myself that it takes real courage to put yourself out there like that, so I stepped out on faith. The end result has been amazing."
"When I did the first Hardest Hit Fund presentation, I saw that same fear, or even shame, on the faces of those in attendance. Once I shared my story, I could see a change. It was as if they, too, realized that we are not alone and we can make it through this difficult time. Help is available. I told them to remember, 'Ye have not because ye ask not.'"
"I'm still seeking employment, said Lyles, but now I can do it with peace of mind."
Research shows that home ownership promotes healthier families and safer communities. Along with education and health, income is one of the building blocks everyone needs to live a good quality of life. Thanks to programs like Indiana's Hardest Hit Fund and United Way, neighbors like Cynthia Lyles are able to maintain financial stability, keep their home and their slice of the American dream alive.
Unemployed homeowners can apply for assistance online. Go to: www.877GetHope.org.