Did you know that JPNDC provides free bilingual financial education and financial coaching that can help families from all over Boston build assets and advance their careers? Today, we are chatting with Donayda Salomon about her path from Family Prosperity Initiative participant, to JPNDC volunteer, to working full-time as a Financial Counselor.

K: Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?

D: I am from Santo Domingo, which is a city in the Dominican Republic. When I first moved here I lived in Dorchester, but now I live in Roslindale.

K: Tell me about your career before you began working at JPNDC.

D: Before JPNDC, I was a banker. I worked for five years developing loan products at a local bank in DR. It was a great experience but when I moved to America, I decided that I wanted to be more involved in the community. My first job here was as a teacher’s assistant at a home-based childcare program. The educator was a part of JPNDC.

K: Why and how did you get involved with JPNDC?

D: While I was working at the childcare program I received a flyer from JPNDC about financial education. I thought it would be very helpful for me to transition into the finance world. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have about finance because when you move to another country it is difficult to transition. Finances in America are hard for immigrants because for us a budget and having credit isn’t usually important in our home country. In America, for example, you have to pay for a lot more utilities. I decided taking a financial skills class would help educate me on these differences but also help me build relationships with people in the finance sector.

I took the class, then signed up to become a member of JPNDC. Eventually, I became a volunteer and was helping with outreach for the Family Prosperity Initiative. I took the chance to do outreach because I wanted to learn more about the city. I was so surprised by the diversity in Boston. It was almost hard for me to understand how a place could be so diverse. I talked to a lot of immigrants about my experience in the financial skills classes at JPNDC. Eventually, I began to teach a little during the trainings.

Donayda with Mel King.

At the time, JPNDC didn’t have a formal position to offer me so I applied to AmeriCorps. JPNDC and AmeriCorps have a relationship. AmeriCorps is an amazing program with the main purpose of serving the community but, really, they served me. They gave me the opportunity for professional development. I got to travel to Houston, Washington and Rhode Island for trainings. I got the opportunity to meet people in power and none of these experiences would have happened for me without AmeriCorps.

K: What is your role at JPNDC?

D: After my AmeriCorps year ended, I was hired by JPNDC to be a full-time Financial Counselor with the Family Prosperity Initiative. A lot of people who come to us are in crisis so they really can’t start working on their long-term goals. I help them deal with all kinds of emergencies–issues with utility bills, housing, healthcare. I have even had people need advice about bed bugs. Sometimes I switch hats and provide financial coaching too, which is my career goal. A financial coach helps people to improve their financial situation.

K: What are some projects that you are working on with JPNDC?

Donayda with FPI graduates.

D: During last fall’s Family Financial Skills Course, I started teaching people how make a budget and how to properly manage it.

I also enjoy building relationships with other agencies. I like to talk to them about what JPNDC is doing and how we can work together to help their participants.

I work a lot with volunteers at JPNDC. My main role is to provide guidance and support during JPNDC events. I volunteer a lot myself with LISC so I think it is very important to foster volunteers. I love them and we have a lot of fun!

K: Why are these projects important to you?

D: As an immigrant, it is very hard to come to America. There are a lot of opportunities in this country but no one tells immigrants about all of the challenges they will face. Sometimes it is difficult to find a place where you can have access to resources and information related to your own situation. I would like to continue supporting my community during its transition period into its new life in America. I want also to provide tools to help them make smart decisions about money, build assets, and have an overall secure financial situation.

It’s also important to me to work with volunteers. It’s tricky because DR is a developing country with many issues, but for different reasons. I was never exposed to activism or volunteerism before. Back then, I did not have full comprehension about how my actions can impact politics, economic and social issues in my community. For this reason, I’ll keep encouraging people to be JPNDC volunteers and be more active in their neighborhoods. It’s important to be aware of how many things we can accomplish together.

Donayda speaking at Octoberfest Fiesta in 2015.

K: Do you have a favorite memory at JPNDC?

D: The year before I started working at JPNDC, I spoke at Octoberfest Fiesta as a participant. It was the first time I told my story. It was amazing! I could see the bigger picture. I finally realized everything JPNDC does for the community. I had the opportunity to share my story with people like me.

K: What is your favorite place in Jamaica Plain?

D: I love the JPNDC Brewery Small Business Complex because it is home to my two favorite places, Mike’s Fitness and Bella Luna. I love Mike’s. Since I started working out in the US I have been going there. I feel like I have family there. I am very proud of the owner because he is Hispanic and his small business is very successful. That is what I want to see in Jamaica Plain. I love Bella Luna because the best relationships I have built, whether professionally or socially, have been built there. I know so many people from the Bella Luna community. I love being around so many people with different backgrounds and I get exposed to a lot of different lifestyles at Bella Luna. I am so honored and glad that I have had the chance to meet those people.

K: What would you like to see happen in Jamaica Plain in the future?

D: I would like to see more affordable housing because I work with people who have those issues all of the time. Jamaica Plain is an amazing place with people who have lived here for many years and I want to see them stay. I want to see Jamaica Plain continue to be home to a diverse community. I want to keep seeing local small businesses. I would love for the Hispanic small business owners to be able to stay. They are very hard working and they are sustaining their families with their businesses.