Every quarter TSAHC spotlights a staff member or partner to help our readers get to know our mission and industry a little better. This week we interviewed Woody Widrow, Executive Director of RAISE Texas, a non-profit dedicated to financial education and asset building for low- and moderate-income Texans.
TSAHC has partnered with RAISE Texas to offer high quality training opportunities to help Texas housing and financial counselors create and expand their financial coaching programs. Below is our interview with Woody.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your background in empowering low- and moderate-income communities.
I started out my career 45 years ago, working in Newark, NJ as a tenant organizer helping low-income renters improve their living conditions. From there, I helped found SHELTERFORCE, a national housing magazine, and served as its first Editor. Other work included stops at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, and consulting for NeighborWorks, the CDFI Fund, and numerous nonprofits across the country. In 1999, I moved to Texas and began my work in this state.
2. Tell us about RAISE Texas, the organization you lead?
I created RAISE (Resources, Assets, Investment, Savings, and Education) Texas as a way to bring together organizations and institutions interested in helping low-income families move up the economic ladder. We support financial products, programs, and policies that are large-scale and high impact, and have the potential to help all Texans become financially healthy.
We started 15 years ago as the Texas IDA Network and then briefly as the Texas Asset Building Coalition and for the last 10 years as RAISE Texas. We are a small staff of two with an active Board that makes all our success possible. We were the first incorporated state asset building coalition in the country.
3. What do you think are the most important issues facing low- and moderate income Texans when it comes to asset-building and financial education?
The most pressing issue is the lack of emergency savings. Other important issues include saving for longer-term goals, predatory and high cost lending draining our communities, income volatility making it hard for families to pay bills on time, and the need to make financial coaching and other related educational issues more accessible to consumers.
4. How would you like to see RAISE Texas grow over the next five years?
I would like to see RAISE Texas be the catalyst for the growth across the state for products and programs such as small dollar loan alternatives, children’s savings accounts for college, employer-supporter financial wellness in the workplace, and financial coaching programs.
5. What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
From my tenant organizing days, being honored with the Ronald B Atlas award by the New Jersey Tenants Organization, founding SHELTERFORCE, and writing the original Newark Rent Control Ordinance. In Texas, it would be the creation of RAISE Texas and getting people to understand the importance of building assets.
6. Who is your professional role model and why?
My role models are the many low-income people I have worked and come into contact with over my years working with nonprofit organizations. I am amazed at their resiliency and optimism. They have taught me how to stay active and optimistic over all these years.
7. What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
I am a proponent of "exercise to eat." I enjoy walking and hiking and then eating good food whether it is through my own doing or at good restaurants. I also enjoy traveling and being with my friends that I have worked with over the last 45 years.
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