Lamira Baker, a 44-year old native Houstonian and mother of three, grew up between Third Ward and Missouri City before spending 15 years serving in the military.
She never thought she would return to Houston.
“After I graduated [high school], I went into the Navy,” said Lamira. “I just wanted to have a better life and be able to pay for myself to go to school and take care of my responsibilities as they would come along later on in my life.”
While serving in the Navy, Lamira earned an associate’s degree in accounting, had three children, married, and was the primary breadwinner for her family. After Lamira was honorably discharged in 2007 with no real plan for reintegrating into the civilian workforce, she briefly worked as a supervisor at Jackson Hewitt – until the family fell into dire financial straits and were evicted from their home in Jacksonville, Florida. The day they were evicted, Lamira packed her children and their belongings into her car and drove all the way back to Houston – a place she thought she would never return to and in circumstances she never thought she would be in.
“I was kind of in a homeless situation for almost a year,” said Lamira. “We stayed at the Star of Hope. My sister and my brother were able to keep my oldest son and my daughter and I had my baby boy. Eventually I was able to get housing. Through the VA I got my disability [benefits] because I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So we went through that. We got stabilized once I was able to get my benefits.”
In 2010, Lamira tried to get her finances on track on with a local credit union, but through some sort of misunderstanding, that relationship with the credit union resulted in a judgment on her credit report. Unsure of what to do about it, Lamira largely ignored the issue and held things together to raise her children, living solely off of her VA benefits.
“My daughter graduated from high school and went off to college at Texas State University,” said Lamira. “I was very proud of her. She did a year at Texas State, and she came home and decided she wanted to join the Navy. But while she was in boot camp she hurt her leg, so she's home now. I actually just introduced her to SER yesterday, so she's going to be taking advantage of some of the services that you all have to offer there. My oldest boy graduated last year from high school and he's now an electrician in the Marine Corps. He's stationed in Camp Pendleton, California. My daughter is 21, my son is 19, and my baby boy is 17.”
“This summer I was actually taking my 17 year-old to a [SER] job fair… and I found out about the BankWork$ program looking through the different booths. After going through the homelessness and dealing with my disability and my PTSD, I finally decided that I wanted to try and get back out into the workforce. So I gave BankWork$ a try.”
During the BankWork$ training course, SER conducted a group financial coaching session with the class, and Lamira saw her opportunity. She approached SER’s financial coach to schedule a one-on-one appointment because she wanted to see what was on her credit and what could be done about it.
Her credit report revealed how badly her family’s financial troubles in Florida and the subsequent credit union issue affected her score. Along with establishing a formal budget, SER’s financial coach helped Lamira figure out how to get the judgement on her credit report removed, which involved lodging a formal complaint with the NCUA.
“I just want to get financially stable,” said Lamira. “[With SER’s financial coach helping me] I was also approved for the TWIN account, so that I can try and get my credit back where I can possibly become a homeowner.”
Through SER’s THRIVE efforts and bundled service model, Lamira was able to take critical steps toward becoming financially stable – something she doubted was possible in her civilian life.
“[BankWork$] was really good, because it gave me an opportunity to get out there,” said Lamira. “And I found it to be very instrumental in helping me to build my confidence back up again. After graduation we had the interviews and Bank of America called me for employment.”
After 8 years out of the workforce, largely isolated, Lamira accepted a teller position at Bank of America. With her management experience in the military and in her last job at Jackson Hewitt, however, she is well-positioned for quick promotions.
“I feel hopeful and excited about getting started [at Bank of America]… I'm going to do everything that I can to stay focused and give it my all.”