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Kathleen Fitzgerald
Greensboro, North Carolina

Interviewed by Lynn Adler and Jim Mayer
Producers of Faith, Hope and Capital

KF: I moved to North Carolina so I could go back to school. But, the first three years I lived in North Carolina, I couldn't afford health insurance. You know, I could pay rent, put food on the table, but I couldn't pay health insurance. So, having a boy, of course I ended up in the emergency room, stitches here, stitches there, you know, things like that happen. But, then you end up with medical bills on your credit.

LA: So, when you started thinking about buying a house you went to the bank?

KF: Yeah. Yeah. I couldn't get anything anywhere, you know. It's like "Your credit is ruined for life." "You're a dirtbag." "Don't ask us for anything." I mean, you know banks get that kind of attitude. They all but laugh when you come in the door. "Help you?" You know.

LA: Not a good bet.

KF: No. No. And I wasn't a bad person. I had just had these problems, but I was working... had been working all along. I just had all of these doctor bills on my credit, so I thought that was it for me. I was ruined for life, I'd never have a chance. But then, I read about Self Help in the newspaper. I read a story. There was a man named Carl Jones who was running it then, and it said he was at the library over on Lee street one day a week. And I read a story about a lady that he was helping and it sounded just like me, you know. She was raising kids on her own and trying to get straightened out, so I thought, maybe I've got a chance. I'll go see these people and see what it's about. So, I went over there and I filled out all their papers, and he got my credit report, and he didn't laugh at me. He said, I can help you. And he spent a couple of hours telling me--this is what you need to do. He told me how to fix my credit, and he told me how to establish good credit. Told me to educate myself about buying a house, you know, gave me some good ideas, and recommended a realtor to me, Mrs. Silverthorn, I went to see her. And she went to home buying seminars so I could learn what it was about. But, this Mr. Jones, I mean, he spent a couple of hours going over this with me and I couldn't believe it. It was like he really, really wanted to help me and he, like I said, told me exactly what I needed to do.

LA: So, you decided that maybe there was a possibility.

KF: There was a chance, there was hope. He said, "If you do these things we will help you get a house." He said, "Do this to fix your credit, save up this much money, and you can afford this much house." And it was like a whole new, a whole new deal for me, you know. I had a whole new direction.

LA: So, what happened?

KF: I did everything he told me to do. Everything. I went down and got my credit straightened out. I established credit. That took me about a year. Then I was ready to go and see about my house and my car died. So, I had to get a new car and it was really funny because in the midst of this, when I had to get the car, I went to my bank to try to get a loan to get a car, and they wouldn't help me. You know, I had cleaned all this stuff up, but they still wouldn't help me because I didn't already have all this credit. So, I finally, I had to get it at a real high interest rate, but I got a car, but that took me another year--put me back another year. So, it took me two years to do everything that I needed to do. So, at the end of that time I called up Self Help to say, "I'm ready", you know, "give me my house." But, Mr. Jones had left and Marcia was there, whom I had never met before. So, I gave her the information over the phone. We made an appointment and I went down to see her. Then she told me, you know I had not a good enough record and that was the word that was handed down by her people in Durham. I couldn't get the loan I wanted, you know, the loan Mr. Jones told me I would get at the good interest rate. So, I left her office and went to the bathroom and cried. Oh, I was crushed, because I had worked so hard for two years, and I'm like, ģI don't know what I'm going to do now. But, two days later Marcia called me at work. She had called the people back. She said after meeting me she went to bat for me. She didn't even know me, but she told the people that she thought they should give me that loan. So, I owe her a lot. She helped me.

LA: So, what does it mean to you to finally have this house?

KF: It did so much for me in so many ways. For one thing, I'm home, I'm home now. That's so important. Plus, somebody has given me a chance and I did it. I did it. I did this by myself. It just empowered me, you know, it's like, I can do anything, if somebody will just give me a chance. It's something I've always wanted... always wanted. And, I think, you know it might sound like a little teeny thing to some people. It might not mean that much but it was everything to me, it really was. It was my dream.

LA: Why?

KF: This is my space. This is my space. That's my yard. I can go out there and plant my flowers, any kind I want, and they're always going to be mine. It's not a bulb I'm going to put in and next year somebody's going to see it come up. Nobody has a key to the door but me, you know. When you're renting from people they've got keys to your house and they can come in any time they want. They can treat you any way they want. Nobody can do that here, this is mine.

LA: You've been evicted?

KF: I've been threatened with it. Yeah. I've been through all that crap standing on the porch on Christmas Eve saying, "Please don't. Give me a chance." You know. You make a choice. Do I pay the rent or the light bill? You know. And there're lots of women in America just like me. There're millions of women raising children by themselves in America. They're not bad people. They've got plenty of family values. They just don't have any money, and all they need is somebody to give them a chance. But, it's like, if you don't have money they treat you like you're a bad person. You're not bad, you're just poor.