With the help of NeighborWorks Umpqua, Douglas County residents like Marla Zoeter and the Winder family are able to move closer to achieving their personal versions of the American Dream.
Story by Nick Noyes Photos by Robin Loznak
“Before you start recording, can I…?” Marla Zoeter’s voice trails, her eyes glued to my phone. I laugh and quickly pause the recording with a delicate tap of the screen.
The director of Heartwood ReSources wants to talk a little business before the millionth re-telling (her estimate) of her life story. She doesn’t believe that her story merits another telling for publication.
She is wrong.
Zoeter is too modest to say so, but her tale is one of a modern-day American dream. Along the journey, she has become a proud grandparent, a thriving homeowner and a successful businesswoman. Thanks to local nonprofits and a retailer, Zoeter got her second chance.
It was around 15 years ago — the dates might be a little fuzzy — Zoeter was job hunting with little money and few prospects. She leaned on state help and accrued debt in order to provide for her family. Job opportunities were scarce, which made for a crush of applicants whenever something attractive came along.
In her JOBS Plus class, a subsidized work program administered by the state Department of Human Services that helps connect applicants with work, Zoeter got a lead.
“I heard Mickey Beach from NeighborWorks Umpqua was hiring [for Heartwood ReSources], so I ran right out of class and went and called him from the lobby.” Zoeter says.
After talking with Zoeter on the phone, Beach set up a couple of interviews with her. He saw her potential and gave her a shot.
The decision paid off. A hard worker, Zoeter excelled at everything she was assigned, including cashier, de-nailer and pick-up driver.
Few who know her were surprised at that.
“THERE IS NOT A DAY THAT GOES BY WHEN I COME HOME, OR PULL IN OR OUT OF MY DRIVEWAY, I DON'T THANK NEIGHBORWORKS UMPQUA.” -Marla Zoeter
Zoeter has never met a stranger in her life. Every client in the store was treated like a close friend. Her work ethic, warmth, kindness and ability to converse with just about anyone made her a valuable employee — who eventually became the store’s manager. With a team of her own, Zoeter mentors and supports her employees with lessons she learned from her own accomplishments, the pursuit of homeownership and her successful financial education, courtesy of the experts from NeighborWorks Umpqua.
“When I started out, I just wanted to own my own home,” Zoeter says.
She realized quickly that, in order to get there, she would need to apply her work ethic to some practical education. She saved money through NWU’s Dream$avers program (an IDA saving program with a 3-to-1 savings match). She took some rigorous courses from NWU to learn all she could about the nuances of home buying. She benefited from coun-seling and coaching at NWU to achieve financial independence and worked steadily toward the day she closed on her first home.
“There is not a day that goes by when I come home, or pull in or out of my driveway, I don’t thank NeighborWorks Umpqua,” she says.
Many Americans have similar stories of triumph. Even more are working to get there.
The Winder family of Roseburg is another story of people who achieved local success through work and community support.
Aaron Winder, a native of Virginia and a military veteran, supports his family with his job at a local big-box retailer. Rising costs and stagnant wages, however, made buying a family home difficult.
They finally bought a fixer-upper in Roseburg’s Newton Creek Manor. But the fixing up took money, and even with Aaron’s job, paying for improvements came slowly.
“Our back door… we had to double lock it just for it to stay shut,” says Juanna Winder, Aaron’s spouse.
The house also had holes in the floor and a roof that would soon need replacement. The Winders had all but resigned themselves to living in a sub-standard home when they heard about a grant opportunity for veterans that would give them cash to get needed repairs made.
They were soon able to repair their roof, floors, windows and doors and add a ductless heating system. Local nonprofits worked with local contractors to ensure the improvement projects were completed. But it took work for the Winders to find the community help they needed as well as being willing to ask for help.
“They were amazing,” says Juanna Winder. “If anybody gets a chance to work with NeighborWorks Umpqua, if you get any paperwork or anything like that, turn it in.”
Stories like the Winders’ and Zoeter’s show the potential help available to Douglas County residents through NeighborWorks Umpqua. And it’s all there for the asking.