When she was in college, Jan Nelson spent a year in France. Since then she’s driven across the United States four times and visited Canada many times.

With all that traveling, she knows that every journey begins with a first step – a concept that’s key for the clients she helps as HAC’s family self-sufficiency coordinator.

The FSS program helps low-income families build assets and make progress toward self-sufficiency. They obtain and maintain suitable employment, getting off public assistance during the last 12 months of the five-year program.  An escrow savings account is established for FSS participants when earned income increases their portion of the rent. At graduation they can use the escrow for anything they choose. jan 071812 005 resized 600

“A lot of times when people have trouble financially, they put their head under the sand instead of tackling it and moving forward,” Nelson said.

Sometimes the advice Nelson gives clients is “tough talk. It’s hard to hear it, but they thank me later.”

Before Nelson joined the staff at HAC almost seven years ago, she was a vocational counselor for12 years at American Training in Haverhill and Lawrence and a training instructor at GEICO in Washington, D.C. A mother of two, she also had been a French teacher for high-school and elementary school students.

“My background as counselor, teacher and mother, it all helps,” Nelson said. “I’ve heard clients say, ‘You sound like my mother.’ I love this job – helping people get ahead and seeing the satisfaction on their faces when they graduate.”

A total of 81 clients have graduated from FSS since HAC started the program in1998; another 46 are currently enrolled. Nelson says the one-on-one approach is vital in helping clients succeed. “Because I have a lot of resources, they count on me to point them in the right direction,” she said. Nelson has a motto that she tells clients to keep in mind while they progress through FSS: The more you learn, the more you earn.

Helping clients find success isn’t always easy. “There aren’t a heck of a lot of jobs on the Cape,” said Nelson. “Transportation and childcare are two big hurdles clients have to jump over.”

FSS is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s Division of Public Housing and Rental Assistance. To qualify for FSS, families must have a HAC Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8).

For more information, contact Jan Nelson at  508-771-5400, ext. 244, or jnelson@HAConCapeCod.org.