An elated Helen Flowers listened with an unmistakable exuberance as Earl G. Graves Sr., chairman and publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE, told her she was the 2006 winner of the Own Your First Home Contest and would be awarded $10,000 toward the down payment on her new home. Flowers was chosen as this year’s winner from a pool of nearly 1,100 applicants. Her compelling story, thorough knowledge of the home-buying process, impeccable essay, and determination to build wealth through homeownership make her a perfect example for readers to follow. Flowers has come a long way since relying on public assistance some 15 years ago; now goose bumps ran up and down her arms and tears of joy flowed freely. The clock was now ticking, however, to get the deal done.
Flowers and her team of attorneys and bankers had to act fast to apply the prize money toward the purchase of her $333,900, four-bedroom, two-bath home in New Windsor, New York. Now the team needed to address new questions, order new documents, confirm new numbers, and, ultimately, reschedule the closing.
“At every round, I had to get it done. I didn’t want to just half do it; I wanted to do it with excellence because that shines
I’m through,” says the 40-year-old divorced mother of two, recalling the rigors of the contest. “It was challenging because there were deadlines that had to be met for BE, but I also had to work on the details of getting the house itself — and try to balance my work, my children, and my ministry. It was crazy.”
Nonetheless, Flowers would close almost a month later with several of her closest supporters in the room, including her mother, brother, and children, marking the culmination of a long road toward homeownership that began more than a decade ago.
Flowers, director of appeals and internal quality review for the City of New York’s Department for the Aging, was determined to build a better life for her children and her parents. When they were young, Flowers and her then-husband dreamed of owning a home together in which to raise their children, but that never materialized. “When you’re married at 16 and pregnant at 17, it’s like the blind leading the blind,” says Flowers, mother of Michael, 22, and Jasmine, 14. Although her marriage eventually deteriorated, her resolve to become a homeowner did not.
Being a single mother without a college degree, however, limited employment opportunities for Flowers. Fifteen years ago, she says, “I was on welfare and I took advantage of it and did something with it … I got my associate’s degree from Bronx Community College, a bachelor’s degree from Lehman College, and now I’m studying toward a master’s degree.” Flowers still resided in the Bronx, New York, housing project she grew up in. Yet, she never let her environment define who she would become.
Instead it was her faith, she says, not her circumstances, which would ultimately sustain her. “When you put God first, he will give you the desires of your