Changing My Stars Helps Families with Home-Buying

This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Melinda Madison of Cambridge has lived a life that includes poverty, wealth, divorce, the demands of being a single mom, and the importance of having a father in the home. After she became a Realtor, she became keenly aware of the barriers to stability and homeownership for many families. Her life experiences and this new knowledge of breaking the cycle of generational renting became the root of her dream to help families become homeowners – the ministry of her nonprofit Changing My Stars, which focuses on serving families in Dorchester, Caroline, and Talbot counties.

“It’s not only breaking out of the cycle of poverty but also breaking the poverty mindset. If your family from however long back has always been poor, always rented, and always had to deal with stresses, there may not have been anyone to walk alongside them and show them it doesn’t have to be that way in the future,” Melinda explains.

As far as her personal story, Melinda states, “God takes you from where you’ve been – your life and the trials – to the ministry that you’re meant to serve.”

Melinda and Scott Madison started Changing My Stars, a nonprofit that moves communities forward, one family at a time.

She recalls being a high school student in Kentucky and her family had no money for her to get a high school yearbook. She realized that work and her income were the only things that would change that. Her neighbors taught her to drive. She got a job at a pizza place on the way home from getting her license and remembers buying her first outfit with the money she earned. It was a blue and white striped sweater and blue slacks that became her special outfit and was in all her high school pictures.

Her work ethic remained with her through college where she continued to work. After college, she bought a Domino’s Pizza franchise. She later signed the franchise over to her former husband, leaving her with nothing after the divorce. One night, the desperation of her situation as an unemployed single mom left her contemplating suicide. She credited God with speaking to her on the road that night and helping her find her faith. Life improved and she took real estate classes while living in Pennsylvania, eventually remarrying.

She became acquainted with the Eastern Shore after she and her husband, Scott, attended the Waterfowl Festival in Easton for three years, renting an Air B&B in Cambridge. They liked the area so much that they decided to move to Cambridge in 2018 where Melinda became a Realtor. Right away, she was getting calls for rentals in Cambridge and soon realized finding affordable housing was a need in the area. This is when she got the spiritual nudge to do something about it – helping residents change the stars around their housing.

In conversations with people, she realized that many people needing housing didn’t have a good credit score, or their finances couldn’t support the rental cost. Many didn’t know how to change their situation.

“I began thinking about generational wealth. My parents did not inherit anything, so they rented most of their life. Finally, when I was a teenager, my parents did buy a small house, which made a huge difference,” Melinda recalls.

As she started to think about how to help others gain homeownership, she went back to something she learned years before – S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) goals – goals you can achieve. By putting goals down on paper and attaching a S.M.A.R.T. goal to them, families could create a path to reaching their goals. She gives examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals for her clients as creating a budget, meeting a budget, or improving a credit score.

As she founded the Changing My Stars program in 2022, she decided to focus the faith-based program on nuclear families with couples and their children. Her focus was to reward participants financially when they meet their goals with the money going into a savings account for when they leave the program – the harder and more time-consuming the goal, the higher the dollar reward. S.M.A.R.T. goals are set by the parents and their children so that children can also learn life skills and be rewarded. Families can earn as much as $15,000 over two years. They are given the choice to rent or buy after they complete the program. Private donations fund the financial rewards to the families.

Mentors, who are either Changing My Stars board or committee members, help families reach their goals. Goals for a parent might range from discussing what makes a good employee, to being self-employed or working towards a degree. Goals for students might be improving their grades, school attendance, or sports/club participation. Family Goals are focused on the atmosphere of the home.

“As a faith-based organization, we want to help families create a strong family unit, including helping them with finances, home management, education, careers, and parenting skills. We have an unofficial circle of community resources that work with the family to help them reach their goals. These may include S.C.O.R.E., a local business mentoring group, to help them if they want to start a business, as well as psychologists and tutors for the children if that is helpful. It depends on what the family needs,” Melinda adds.

The organization is working to purchase the homes the families can rent while in the program. Changing My Stars finds families through connections in the community. The organization identified its first family in 2024. Melinda states, “The most important quality is whether a family is intentional about their goals to improve their financial situation and to learn the life skills necessary to change their situation.”

The organization hopes the participating families will share their stories and bring more people to participate in the program. Melinda believes that by strengthening families, communities will be strengthened, cities will be strengthened, and counties will be strengthened.

“We want to meet families where they are and give them the skills and a hand up to get to where they want to go. Along the way, they learn how to succeed,” Melinda adds.

Upcoming activities for Changing My Stars include a pickleball fun day, a family fun day, and a fall fundraiser. Further information is available at www.changingmystars.org. To learn more about Changing My Stars, contact Melinda Madison at 443-477-1081 or email her at Melinda@changingmystars.org.

 

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