Writer: Tom Scanlon
Photographer: Ben Arnold
On the next-to- last day of the year, Amanda Howard was asked, “How was your 2016?”
“Oh, wow,” she replied, taking a deep breath to process the question. “It’s been a roller coaster for me — a real roller coaster. This year has been like, wow! So many ups and downs.”
She laughed and raised her arms like a prize fighter after a long, tough fight. “But I made it through!”
Inside the conference room of Pacific Southwest Minority Supplier Development Council, where Amanda is the administrative assistant and event coordinator, one of the first things that popped into her mind was having her divorce finalized. It’s a bit of a tricky, modern situation, as she and her ex-husband still live together with their two children.
They bought their Anthem home in 2008, which may have been the worst time to buy a home in history. Like millions of other Americans, the Howards were hammered by the recession that followed the real estate bubble burst and received a pay-up-or-get-out letter.
That the Howards could fight off foreclosure and keep their Anthem home is perhaps the biggest up for Amanda. Indeed, more than a house, it’s a symbol of her never-give-up nature.
Her successful fight to keep her family home was recognized in November, when Arizona Women’s Education and Employment (AWEE) honored her as one of the group’s Faces of Success in 2016.
As she talked about in her acceptance speech at the ceremony located at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa, a combination of bills and loss put the Howards behind on the mortgage. In a short period, Amanda was hit with the death of her beloved grandmother and two close friends. Her therapy bills stacked on her co-pays, along with no coverage for her two children (both have ADHD). She was 30 days away from losing her home when she attended a foreclosure prevention resources fair, where she was introduced to AWEE.
Amanda was working as a freelance journalist, but realized she needed a full-time job.
“Through AWEE,” she told the audience, “I learned the right way to develop my resume and most importantly, how to search for jobs by understanding how the different job search sites worked. I leaned heavily on the advice I received, but the biggest benefit was in building my confidence and self-esteem. Strengthening me from the inside helped me realize I could do whatever I set my mind to.”
The Howards got a little breathing room when, following a process illustrated at the workshop, they were approved for a loan modification program. But there were still bills to pay, and a steady income was needed.
Coached by Jaclyn Boyce, Amanda spent months sending out resumes and making phone calls, with nothing to show for the effort. Many people might have given up, decided it’s just not meant to be and accepted the eventual loss of their home, pulling up the tempting blanket of depression.
Not Amanda. She kept fighting.
At the end of 2014, she landed the job she now says she loves, a position where she could not only help others (minority business owners), but also put herself on the path to stability.
If this journalist could have an out-of- body experience, look at herself from a detached position and write about it, how would the story go?
“I think one thing I would highlight,” she said, after a long a pause to analyze the question, “is keep fighting. Keep pushing — you can get through whatever you’re facing. It took eight months to get this job. I remember Jackie said, ‘You just keep going.’”
Over the years, the nonprofit AWEE has helped some 200,000 Arizonans find meaningful work. Statistics are great, but the smiling faces of people like Amanda, with the stress falling away, illustrate the true story.
“When I hear of moms or other people looking for jobs or having a hard time finding them, I always tell them to contact AWEE,” Amanda told the audience at the ceremony. “Knowing that there are people like Jaclyn and organizations like AWEE to help us reimagine our lives means we’re not alone and not without hope.”
This story was originally featured in Image Arizona Magazine. Read the article here.