Sophisticated and well-spoken with a soft hint of North Carolina in her voice. These are all ways to describe Brenda even at first glance. Her poised demeanor and gentle handshake didn’t tell her story though. They were just the beginning. As I sat with Brenda, she described her high life; living in Africa for 20 years, traveling with her husband who was the first black person to be President of a foreign company, and raising her children. One of her favorite things to do during this time was help others. Brenda knew she was fortunate and had the means to pay it forward. She had friends in high places, domestic help and a lifetime of stories abroad, but there was civil unrest brewing. Her life was in danger. For her family’s safety, she left everything behind, including her husband and financial security, and returned to the States with only her nearly adult children.
With her children grown, it was time to complete her education and make it on her own. Brenda received advanced degrees from Howard University and Yale University with an emphasis in graphic design and African Art History. She scraped by with scholarships and help from old friends as an untraditional “older student” during those years and discovered teaching was her passion. Brenda landed at Virginia State University where she taught for many years before retirement. Her stories of helping students build confidence and ultimately success filled her with renewed pride as she reminisced on the past.
Now in her 80’s, Brenda moved to Texas to be closer to her family. That move is where money troubles first arose. Brenda would be the first to tell you that teachers do not make a lot of money, and while her fixed income normally sustains her, the move was more expensive than she anticipated. She didn’t have the buffer needed to make a big change in her life, however, she felt it was a necessary change as she aged. Brenda took out a loan in order to move to Texas. She also experienced some money mismanagement when her landlord in Virginia didn’t receive her last month’s rent and she still needed to pay rent here in Texas. That first month in Texas she found herself with loan debt and two rent payments. She turned to The Caring Place to get her back on track. The Caring Place helped her pay one month of rent, and by providing food from the Food Pantry and gas vouchers. Brenda believes with this continued food assistance she will be able to reduce her expenses in order to pay off her loan. If she pays down the loan enough, she can qualify for The Caring Place’s Alternative Loan Program to get her interest rates lower and make that more affordable.
My momma always said, “Help is there, don’t be too ashamed to get it, but don’t stay on it. Do whatever it takes to stand on your own. Find a job, go to school; whatever it takes.” Brenda plans to take that advice by reducing her expenses. She’s currently taking a Money Management course for Older Adults offered through The Caring Place and Third Coast Bank. In 2022, she co-wrote and released a children’s book with African characters called, “Kulu, The Wise Turtle: The Fable,” and plans to write another. Brenda also has a number of prints she created that she hopes to sell. Next on the horizon is the possibility of teaching a class on African Art right here in Georgetown. While this will be a volunteer position, Brenda is excited to teach others about something she is passionate about. She wants to pay kindness forward in her community.