Phyllis pictured on the far right with two of her friends who volunteered to help her with a fundraiser she coordinated for the Harriet Tubman Guild.
Phyllis pictured on the far right with two of her friends who volunteered to help her with a fundraiser she coordinated for the Harriet Tubman Guild.

Continuing our Circles + Open Hand Ministries spotlight series, today we are featuring Phyllis Nettles, a long-time East Liberty resident who joined the Circles and Open Hand Ministries program in March of 2016. Phyllis got involved with the program to prepare herself for homeownership and to help realize her dream of opening a business one day. As a 61-year-old Family Engagement Specialist at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services who is currently raising her two and four-year-old great grandchildren, Phyllis has a lot on her plate. And while she’s not normally one for the spotlight, she made an exception in this case, telling us; “I really want to inspire people my age, because I think people should never forget their dreams. They’re always possible, no matter the age.” Read on to hear more of Phyllis’ story and learn more about how Circles and Open Hand Ministries are helping her reach her goals.

What brought you to East Liberty?

I grew up in Homewood so I always knew about East Liberty and always came to shop in East Liberty. I grew to like East Liberty from that, and that’s why I wanted to move here because I felt that it was a really nice area that had everything I needed. Then when I was searching for a place to live, I looked in East Liberty and found a place. It’s a funny story actually because I was on Section 8 at the time so I was looking for Section 8 housing, and when I found the place, I told my girlfriend about it who was a school bus driver. She had a map, but she couldn’t find the house, and she was like, “There is no such place.” and “I’m like, yes there is! So I’m going to find it.” Now that I live here, I understand how hard it is to find my place because my block, Weldon Street, is only two blocks long, and one end is a dead end. Only my neighbor and I have addresses on the block. But once I moved to East Liberty, what I really liked was the fact that it felt like I was living in the country and the city. Nobody really came down through this area unless they lived here, and I really liked that. While I like the change that’s going on here in East Liberty to a point, I don’t like the fact that that’s changing because now way more traffic is coming through here.

How long have you been living in East Liberty now?

Over thirty years.

Why do you like being a part of this neighborhood?

You can get to anywhere from here, and you don’t have to have a car, which was especially important for me in the beginning, because when I moved here I didn’t own a car. I have one now, but I’ve only had one for about two years. East Liberty is in walking distance to everything I need. There are community agencies here and activities for my great grandchildren I’m raising. I’m not sure about all of the new changes, but I’m open to see what it’s going to do for the community as a whole, because it is needed. It’s a good neighborhood with good neighbors who help each other and want the best for our community. The residents and the businesses work together to build a strong community.

How did you first get involved with Open Hand Ministries (OHM) and Circles?

When I became a tenant of ELDI at my house on Weldon St., Tracy Dyer, their former Property Manager, told me about OHM. I contacted Michael Stanton, the executive director of the organization, and he was so kind as to sit down with me and explain the whole program from the beginning of concept. I thought it sounded like a great program, and I knew I wanted to participate. It wouldn’t be until years later, in March of 2016, that I would be able to join the program when Tammy Thompson, OHM’s Family Development Coordinator, brought the program back to my attention by telling me about how she was working with Michael in a new program called Circles. I knew Tammy from Neighborhood Legal Services, now called NeighborWorks. She helped me clean up my credit, and I kept it clean. I signed up basically because I knew Tammy and Michael were good people, and would run a good program.

What appealed to you about the process?

After the first meeting, I briefly read over the binder of information on Circles, and I could tell it was the process I was looking for to help me achieve my goals of homeownership and starting a business. I like the fact that the program is developed to help you use your strengths in achieving your goals. The program teaches you the necessary steps and partners you with allies who help you through the process and who become an integral part of your life for the betterment of our community as a whole. The friendship between leaders and allies has a ripple effect when leaders become allies, keeping the process moving forward to help build our community, one leader at a time.

What are the steps you are currently taking to become a homeowner?

I came to Circles with good credit and savings, but I still feel I have things to learn to become the best homeowner I can be; therefore, I am working with Tammy and my allies to help me get in the best position to purchase a home that will fit my family’s needs. At this time, Tammy and I are working on my budget and my allies are helping me with Quicken and my 2016 taxes, etc. Having allies is a great support due to the fact that I’m a senior raising my two and four year-old great granddaughters.

What has been the most challenging part of everything so far?

My budget. I’m working with Tammy on keeping a spending log — that’s where Quicken comes in. I’m a saver but I want to be able to save even more. That’s why I need to put what’s in my head on paper to keep better track of my spending. It will also set me up to be able to keep up with all that owning your own home entails such as the mortgage, bills, repairs, etc.—to keep the household running smoothly. I feel having a substantial amount of savings is necessary in owning a home because having a rainy day fund can help you stay out of debt.

What are you most proud of when you look back at where you started until now?

The fact that God has brought me this far, and I know, with his help, I will complete his path for my life. I feel blessed to be a part of Circles because I look forward to achieving my goals and becoming an ally to be able to help others achieve theirs. I was never a reader until Circles, but due to the Circles book club, I am now a lover of reading.

How have Circles and OHM leaders guided you through the experience?

Tammy and Michael have been great. They are very informative and open, making it a great learning environment. I’ve learned a lot, and I look forward to learning even more.

What are your dreams for the future?

I plan to own my own family home and start a business as a financial legacy to leave to my family. I’m going to bring my family along with me on this journey for the betterment of us all for generations to come.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I don’t really do interviews. I’m a behind-the-scenes person, but I really want to inspire people my age because I think people should never forget their dreams. They’re always possible, no matter the age. And it doesn’t matter what all you’re going through in your life, you can still reach your dreams and goals, because you know, I’m raising my two and four-year-old great granddaughters but that’s still not going to stop me from fulfilling the path the Lord has for my life.