http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Callie Chunestudy stands by her new hot water heater that she was able to purchase as a participant in the CN’s Commerce Services iSave program. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Callie Chunestudy stands by her new hot water heater that she was able to purchase as a participant in the CN’s Commerce Services iSave program. COURTESY

iSave helps Cherokees save money for home rehab

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
10/23/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Commerce Services helps Cherokees whose homes are undergoing rehabilitation pay for the work with its Individual Development Account program known as iSave.

iSave teaches individuals to budget their incomes and how to save money. After saving money, the program matches those individuals’ savings.

“We were actually the very first Indian tribe to start a Individual Development Account program in 1998,” Commerce Services Executive Director Anna Knight said.

The program went through changes after Knight said she discovered Cherokees were mostly using funds for housing rehab.

“Now we focus specifically on housing rehab. And when we talk about rehab, we’re talking about improvements that are made to the home that increase the value of the home,” she said.

Improvements include adding storm windows, fencing the yard or enclosing a garage.

Another change is that participants are allowed to save money for up to six months before utilizing matched funds. Previously, participants were required to save for 24 months.

“We learned through our own clients that 24 months was sometimes just too long. If people don’t get gratification a little bit sooner in the process, then it makes them lose interest in the process,” Knight said.

Funded by the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act, Knight said iSave matches $3 for every $1 saved up to $1,000 and the match could be up to $3,000.

“Say in the first six months they save $500 and then they wanted to put in new air conditioning, they wanted to redo the floors in their house, something like that. We would match them $3 for every $1 that they saved. That would be $1,500,” Knight said.

The money saving program works with participating local banks helping people open accounts for as little as $30 to begin saving and have account fees waived.

“The philosophy behind that is that the bank is building a future customer, so later when this person needs to borrow money or needs to open another account, they’ll become a customer for that bank,” Knight said.

She said an important component is financial education. Through financial education, a participant is provided with a one-on-one financial coach, provided copies of his or her credit report, taught how to improve his or her credit, given lessons on how to pay off debt and taught how to look at his or her budget and find where he or she can save money.

“Once they go through the financial education then overwhelmingly they come back and tell how much they’ve learned from the classes, how much they’ve learned from the business coaches and didn’t really realize how much they did not know that was actually out there,” Knight said. “At every opportunity that we can we try to teach people to save.”

iSave has helped more than 550 participants so far. Participants are allowed to stay in the program up to 36 months.

CN citizen Callie Chunestudy is a participant who’s been in the program for nearly a year and half. Her home rehab includes purchasing a hot water heater and she’s in the process of having drainage work on her property to help keep her home from flooding.

Chunestudy said the program is “wonderful” and helps her afford renovations she would otherwise not be able to afford.

“If you can take the initiative to save a little bit of the money yourself, which they’re asking you do, which is kind of a self-help program, then they’ll also pitch in and increase that money exponentially so that you can get your project finished,” Chunestudy said.

Chunestudy said she’s learned to outline a plan and budget her funds for the types of projects she wants done.

“You’ve got to budget your projects and figure out what you want to work on and get finished. You can’t just sit on it forever and wait for something to happen to the house. You kind of have to have a plan for what you want to use it for,” she said.

A participant must meet the National Median Income guidelines, be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe and own a home.

For more information, call 918-453-5536 or email sbac@cherokee.org.
About the Author
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing in journalism. She started working for the Cherokee Phoenix in 2016.
 
Working for the Cherokee Phoenix, Lindsey hopes to gain as much knowledge as she can about Cherokee culture and people. She is a full-blood Cherokee and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band.
 
Her favorite activities are playing stickball and pitching horseshoes. She is a member of the Nighthawks Stickball team in Tahlequah and enjoys performing stickball demonstrations in various communities. She is also a member of the Oklahoma Horseshoe Pitchers Association and competes in sanctioned tournaments throughout the state.
 
Previously a member of the Native American Journalists Association, she has won three NAJA awards and hopes to continue as a member with the Cherokee Phoenix.
lindsey-bark@cherokee.org • 918-772-4223
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing in journalism. She started working for the Cherokee Phoenix in 2016. Working for the Cherokee Phoenix, Lindsey hopes to gain as much knowledge as she can about Cherokee culture and people. She is a full-blood Cherokee and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band. Her favorite activities are playing stickball and pitching horseshoes. She is a member of the Nighthawks Stickball team in Tahlequah and enjoys performing stickball demonstrations in various communities. She is also a member of the Oklahoma Horseshoe Pitchers Association and competes in sanctioned tournaments throughout the state. Previously a member of the Native American Journalists Association, she has won three NAJA awards and hopes to continue as a member with the Cherokee Phoenix.

Services

BY STAFF REPORTS
12/10/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix recently made a change to its Elder Fund to make U.S. military veterans eligible for free yearlong subscriptions to the Cherokee Phoenix. Thanks in part to a donation from Cherokee Nation Businesses, as well as donations from Cherokee Phoenix individual subscribers, it was possible to expand the fund to include Cherokee veterans of any age. “The Elder Fund was created to provide free subscriptions to Cherokee elders 65 and older,” Executive Editor Brandon Scott said. “Due to an influx of recent donations, we had the ability to extend the Elder Fund to include Cherokee veterans. We will continue to give free subscriptions to our elders and veterans as long as we have money in our Elder & Veteran Fund.” Using the newly renamed Elder & Veteran Fund, elders who are 65 and older and Cherokee veterans of any age can apply to receive a free one-year subscription by visiting, calling or writing the Cherokee Phoenix office and requesting a subscription. The Cherokee Phoenix office is located in the Annex Building on the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The postal address is Cherokee Phoenix, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. To call about the Elder & Veteran Fund, call 918-207-4975 or 918-453-5269 or email <a href="mailto: justin-smith@cherokee.org">justin-smith@cherokee.org</a> or <a href="mailto: joy-rollice@cherokee.org">joy-rollice@cherokee.org</a>. No income guidelines have been specified for the Elder & Veteran Fund, and free subscriptions will be given as long as funds last. Tax-deductible donations for the fund can also be sent to the Cherokee Phoenix by check or money order specifying the donation for the Elder & Veteran Fund. Cash is also accepted at the Cherokee Phoenix offices and local events where Cherokee Phoenix staff members are accepting Elder & Veteran Fund donations. The Cherokee Phoenix also has a free website, www.cherokeephoenix.org, that posts news seven days a week about the Cherokee government, people, history and events of interest. The monthly newspaper is also posted in PDF format to the website at the beginning of each month.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/06/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Experience the first Cherokee Christmas through a holiday exhibit at the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. Cherokee Christmas shares the story of how Moravian missionaries brought holiday celebrations to the Cherokee people in 1805. The exhibit features information about how traditions began and displays decorations similar to what was used at the Vann’s Georgia home during the first Cherokee Christmas. The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is at 122 E. Keetoowah St. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Originally built in 1844, it is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The 1,950-square-foot museum features exhibits in three historic aspects: the Cherokee national judicial system, the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers and the Cherokee language, with historical items, including photos, stories, objects and furniture. For information call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/04/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation issued its 100,000th photo identification citizenship card on Nov. 29 to Terry Shook, 58, of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, who expects to use it for traveling and tribal services. “I’m a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Springdale and took a vacation day – one of the few I ever get to take during the holidays – to come over and get a photo ID,” Shook said. The tribe’s Registration Department began issuing photo IDs in 2012. Department officials have traveled to various and Washington, D.C., to issue the cards to at-large citizens. “We’ve issued a Cherokee Nation photo identification card to almost one-third of our 350,000-plus tribal citizens, and that is a significant achievement,” Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Over the past five years, the tribe’s Registration Department has traveled to 11 states and Washington, D.C., so our at-large citizens also have the opportunity to receive a photo ID. They are not only useful for traditional photo ID needs such as traveling, but have also proven effective when used for tribal services. Having a Cherokee Nation photo ID is a source of pride for our people, and I would encourage all citizens to check into getting one at their earliest convenience.” The tribe’s upgraded photo ID citizenship cards are similar in appearance to a driver’s license and feature the citizen’s CN registration number, photo and signature along with the official registrar and principal chief’s signatures and a CN hologram seal for validation. Citizens can opt for their official Bureau of Indian Affairs Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood on the card’s back. Photo IDs are free, but a replacement ID is $5. To upgrade to a photo ID “blue card,” visit the Registration Department from 8:15 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday in the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. Children 18 and under can also get a photo ID card but must have a parent or legal guardian present. For more information, call 918-456-6980 or 1-800-256-0671, or email <a href="mailto: registration@cherokee.org">registration@cherokee.org</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
12/04/2017 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Food Distribution program recently earned a perfect score on a U.S. Department of Agriculture Management evaluation, a testament on how it has improved during the years in serving tribal citizens. “To be awarded a perfect score is already a big accomplishment for our team, but to be told that we made history, that was a huge credit to the program. The USDA Management evaluation is an extensive process where they examine many aspects of the operational processes,” Jennifer Kirby, Family Assistance interim director, said. Beginning in 1983, the program began as a monthly tailgate service to ensure qualifying families received food. Funded by the USDA and CN, staff members traveled to locations in the tribe’s jurisdiction to distribute food. “We used to take the food to them. We put everything on our trucks, and we took it to them,” Food Distribution Assistant Manager Felicia Foreman, who has worked in the program since it opened, said. “It was hard especially in the summers and the winters because it was either really hot or cold and families might have to take, their kids and the elderly had to wait in it. But it was really rewarding too when you know at the end of the day you helped somebody feed their family and the elderly.” Families lined up at the sites for packaged and canned foods. Although the tailgate sites ended in December 2016, Kirby said they still make home deliveries under certain circumstances. “It really was a big issue about getting it out in a timely manner and not having any loss...getting it out before it spoiled, to our families. And if they couldn’t make it then you kind of had to bring it back and hope everything stayed at top condition by the time you brought it back,” she said. “But we can make home deliveries if someone isn’t medically able to get come get their commodities. We make 80 home deliveries among the elderly and handicap.” Not only can participants now visit grocery store settings and shop, but they also have more foods from which to choose. “We now have a variety of foods, which is really good for our clients because they have more options to choose from. We started out with about 50 items of food and that’s not a lot to choose from. Then we went up to 72 items and now we are at 108 different items that they choose from,” Kirby said. Along with more variety is better food quality as the USDA changed some products to cater to healthier needs. The tribe’s stores offer fresh produce such as fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-wheat tortillas and low-sodium products. The program also offers traditional foods such as wild rice, filleted salmon and bison. The Food Distribution team is also working on getting filleted catfish. “They try to listen to the different tribes and what their traditional foods are within that region and catfish was one of the traditional foods bought up in our area for our tribe,” said Kirby. Officials said across its seven locations, Food Distribution served 135,602 individuals in fiscal year 2017. Although the hope is to not see those numbers increase, Kirby said if they do the program wants to provide top quality foods and variety. “If our numbers increase I think we feel there is more hungry in the 14 counties, but if we need to be here to service more people we want to service more people. But our hope is to continue to offer more varieties of food and to continue to increase the quality,” she said. To qualify, one must be a federally recognized tribal citizen and must provide proof of income, proof of address and identification cards for each household member. People can apply at Food Distribution stores in Collinsville, Nowata, Stilwell, Sallisaw, Jay, Salina and Tahlequah. The stores are closed the last three working days of the month. For more information, call 1-800-865-4462 or 918-207-3920 or visit<a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a>. <strong>Food Distribution Centers</strong> Tahlequah 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. 918-453-5700 Collinsville 1101 N. 12th 918-371-4082 Jay 1501 Industrial Parkway Road 918-253-8279 Nowata 1018 Lenape Dr. 918-273-0050 Salina 904 N. Owen Walters Blvd. 918-434-8402 Sallisaw 3400 W. Cherokee 918-775-1120 Stilwell Hwy 59 South, Industrial Park 918-696-5171
BY STAFF REPORTS
11/29/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation on Dec. 8 will temporarily open its Mutual Help/Rural Rental Homeownership waiting list for qualified Native American families in Wagoner County. Families may submit applications at the Leon Daniel Heights office located at 701 W. Fox in Tahlequah to live in re-inventoried homes in Wagoner County. HACN staff will be available to distribute and accept applications for three- and four-bedroom homes beginning at 9 a.m. The first 10 completed applications will be accepted. A completed application must be signed by both head of household and spouse. Applicants seeking a four-bedroom unit must be a household of six. Applicant or spouse must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe and meet income guidelines and other requirements of the program. Each family’s maximum income limit will be based on 80 percent of the Nation Median Income. Cherokee preference will apply, but applicants from all federally recognized tribes are welcome to complete application for housing. Applicants are encouraged to bring tribal citizenship cards or Certificate Degree of Indian Blood cards, Social Security cards for each person in the household, copies of driver’s license or state-issued identifications for each person 18 years of age or older, copies of marriage license/divorce decree and proofs of income for all people who will be listed as living in the household. Award letters verifying SSA, SSI or VA benefits must be dated within 120 days. For more information, call 918-456-5482.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
11/28/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Mortgage Assistance Program, located within Commerce Services, helps qualified Cherokees become first-time homeowners through homeownership preparation and down payment assistance. “A house is a person’s biggest investment that they’re ever going to make in their life, basically. And it’s an appreciable asset, so it increases in value over time,” Commerce Services Executive Director Anna Knight said. The MAP provides participants classes that educates them of the process of becoming a homeowner such as pre-qualifying for a non-predatory loan, having good credit, finding a realtor, finding a home and having the home inspected. The program is income-based and funded through the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act program. To qualify, a participant must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe, household income must not exceed 80 percent of the current National Median Household income, attend homebuyers education classes, not owe any outstanding delinquent debt to the CN and purchase a home in the CN jurisdiction. The program recently underwent policy changes regarding the amount of assistance for which a participant is eligible, the housing price and the definition of a homebuyer. Knight said prior to the changes, eligible participants received $20,000 in assistance and down payment. The new policy tiers the funds based on income, which enables MAP to help more people with a 3 percent down payment and closing cost. The tier system, per the National Median Household income, states that 60 percent and below receive $20,000; 60.01 percent to 70 percent receive $15,000; and 70.01 percent up to the maximum of 80 percent income receive $10,000. Prior maximum housing prices went up to $200,000. Now the limit is $150,000. The definition of a homebuyer used to be a participant could not have owned a home in the past three years. Now participants must have never owned a home to be eligible. Since the program’s 2008 inception, 1,707 participants have become homeowners such as CN citizen Feather Smith-Trevino. Smith-Trevino and her husband entered the program in 2010, at a time when they rented an apartment but wanted something permanent. “I never really like renting. I always felt like that I wanted to put our money towards something that was going to last longer. I wanted a house of our own,” she said. Not knowing anything about homeownership, the couple was in the program for nearly a year before purchasing a home in July 2011. “We knew that we wanted to be able to get a house that we were going to be happy in and be able to live,” Smith-Trevino said. “We’ve been in our house now for six years.” CN citizen Morgan Hogner and her husband participated in MAP intending to build a home. “The program has helped us tremendously with budgeting. It has also greatly expanded our knowledge of the processes of construction and financing a new home,” Hogner said. Applying for MAP in 2014, Hogner said she and her husband attended the required homebuyers classes and monthly meetings with their counselor while planning their home’s construction by drawing up floor plans and getting necessary construction estimates. “The process took a long time to complete for us due to the fact that we were doing our build in baby steps. We were trying to play it smart as to not overwhelm ourselves and get in over our heads,” Hogner said. Hogner moved into her new home in August. She said the home was created to be “self-sufficient” meaning it is solar-powered, has well water, is designed to vent heat without an air conditioner to keep it cooler in the summer and has three layers of insulation to retain heat for the winter. “We are very grateful for this program. We figured it would be years before we would be able to even start with construction on our own. We truly appreciate the tremendous love and support our family has given us throughout our journey,” Hogner said. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/sbac/Mortgage-Assistance-Program-MAP" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/sbac/Mortgage-Assistance-Program-MAP</a>.