"Having our own home means a whole lot for our family. It gives us freedom and space."
Success Stories: David Kuegah-Toyo
A Home to Call Their Own
Scarcely a greater contrast can be found: between a crowded refugee camp in Ghana and a modest home in Louisville, Kentucky. A 16-hour flight and more than a decade separate the two.
Today, David Kuegah-Toyo shares a home with his large extended family. Kuegah-Toyo is a 37-year-old native of Togo, a small country in western Africa. Eleven years ago, however, he and his mother, sister, wife, and four children fled civil strife in Togo to the relative safety of a refugee camp. A small communal garden supplied the camp with most of its food, while fishing supplemented meals part of the year. The family gathered brush from the forest for fires each evening and slept under a thatch roof. The Kuegah-Toyo family came to the U.S. after intense interviews for a place in a United Nations resettlement project.
Though far from home, David and his family were not alone in their new country. Steve and Susan Bell, residents of Louisville, saw the Kuegah-Toyo family on a Web site seeking sponsors for resettling refugee families. The Bells got members of their Episcopal Church of the Advent to step up for the job. The church helped the family settle in Louisville and identified affordable housing and employment opportunities for David.
A hard-working man accustomed to struggling for his family's basic survival, David soon secured full-time employment at a local hotel at $5.75 an hour. Just weeks after arriving in Louisville, he signed a lease for two adjacent two-bedroom apartments to shelter his seven-member family. Eight months later, he took a second full-time job paying $7.65 an hour at a local aluminum factory. He put in at least 16 hours of work each day for over three months, eventually landing another factory job paying $8.50 an hour with a quick start wage program, which jumped $2.00 an hour after just two weeks. Conditions were better, but David's sister had recently resettled to Louisville, and his wife was pregnant with their fifth child. The two-bedroom apartments were getting crowded, and the rent and utilities were becoming challenges.
This is where Assets for Independence enters. Chris Shull, a case manager with Kentucky Refugee Ministries, told David about the Common Wealth Individual Development Account (CWIDA) Project. CWIDA is a project of the Economic Success Program of the Center for Women and Families. Other key partners are the Louisville Metro Housing Authority and Republic Bank. The project offers participants a structured savings program with matching dollars, and the skills and support necessary to continue to save toward asset acquisition. Additionally, the CWIDA Project offers economic education to prepare participants for life-long independence. David contacted an IDA counselor, applied, and began saving toward the purchase of his family's home. He continued putting in overtime at work and deposited much more than the $20 monthly minimum into his IDA savings account. With the help of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), David was able to make several extra deposits into his IDA account totaling more than $1,000.
Perhaps the CWIDA Project's most diligent saver, David participated in budget and savings courses above and beyond the requirements. A man of few words, David listened intently during classes. Although still learning English himself, David often translated course content for his sister, who also was a participant. After several months of quiet observation, David raised his hand during a budgeting course discussion. Capturing a central point of financial management, he said, "It is good to meet the needs of the family rather than to worry about the wants." He further explained, "Many people worry about the wants of their children and families, even borrowing money to do so, but then they must work six months, eight months, a year to pay that money back. That harms them more."
David made saving a family affair, sharing his budget with his children each month and showing them how he was spending the family's money.
Three years later, on April 23, 2004, David and his family became homeowners. "Having our own home means a whole lot for our family. It gives us freedom and space," He says. David and his wife continue to save toward other goals, which include postsecondary education for David and their children. David does not expect success to come easily. He knows that most things worth having require hard work and commitment and that people—like the Common Wealth IDA Project—are often there to offer support and encouragement.