David and Katrina were used to the concept of doing good by doing well. They’d lived it their whole lives. Though born on opposite sides of the country (David from Long Island, NY, Katrina from our Pacific Northwest), their shared commitment to helping people drew them to each other. They each spent their days advocating for the injured, the underserved, and the overlooked. Why not do it together?
Predictably, they met working at the same volunteer outfit. Serving the AmericaCorps program of Covenant House International, they’d helped homeless youth with nowhere else to go. Some were kicked out of their homes for lack of money, some were at the end of their rope in the foster care system, and some ran away to chase fortunes in the slot machines of Atlantic City. Wherever they came from, they’d find care and support in the presence of David and Katrina.
Since then, the pair’s advocacy efforts expanded widely to include victims of sexual assault, children exploited commercially, and the elderly, to name a few. Katrina currently oversees the Victim Advocacy Program at the Beaverton Police Department, leading a team of specially trained volunteers who provide emotional support, resources, and education for victims of crimes. David, meanwhile, now advocates for patients in the Providence Health & Services system, providing one-on-one counseling for people experiencing anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and other challenges. He helps patients build toward healthier thoughts, behaviors, and lifestyles while working to ensure individual patient needs are being served by the healthcare system at large.
They’d always shared a vision of a kinder, more loving world. After dating for a few years living in tiny New York apartments, they came to share a new vision: it was time to settle into their own home in the Northwest. In 2009, David and Katrina took out a Unitus Mortgage loan and bought a house together in Hillsdale. Though the house itself was modest in size, it sported a spacious backyard, was located in a great neighborhood, and placed them in walking distance to many desirable stores and restaurants. It was the perfect place to start their next chapter.
Two things stand out clearly about David and Katrina: they are constantly searching for ways to make the world a nicer place, and they don’t waste any time getting things done. Thus, it wasn’t long before they enlisted a contractor to remodel the entryway to their home. Likewise, it wasn’t long after they discovered that they were going to have their first child. Shortly after the confetti cleared from their celebrations, they came to a sobering realization: their modest house, as presently constructed, would be pushed to the breaking point with the addition of a new baby. To make matters at once more ecstatic and alarming, they soon discovered they would be having twins. They needed to expand their home to raise their children the way they wanted to. They knew it was time to get to work.
Quintessential planners, they had no illusions; the new construction project would be significantly more challenging than the last. They sought to add hundreds of square feet, build new rooms from the ground up, and install new plumbing and electrical lines, to say nothing of the challenges presented to a couple during pregnancy. Having never undertaken a project of this scale, they fell back on the philosophy that had gotten them this far: put their heads down, dive in, and get to work.
They reached out to the contractor who’d previously worked on their home. He’d done a good job on the entryway, and they’d begun to develop a rapport. However, in the excitement of all the new beginnings raining down on them, they failed to fully appreciate one inconvenient truth: their contractor had likewise never taken on a project of this scope. He hadn’t come close, really. That left both sides to feel their way through the process.
As the project progressed, the magnitude of the work began to grow on them. Though not lacking for their trademark steely willpower and herculean willingness, they couldn’t escape the fact that they’d bitten off more than they could chew. “It was stressful,” recalled David. “It became almost second nature that within a half hour of being awake, there would be other people at our house doing some sort of loud activity.” Almost a year after construction began, the budget David and Katrina acquired through their Unitus home equity line of credit had dried up, leaving a project far from completion.
The couple was left gazing at unfinished walls, rooms without ceilings, construction debris everywhere they turned, and a pair of infant twin boys demanding attention. They needed help. Luckily, their saving grace had been blooming out of sight for the better part of ten years, and it was their instinct that planted the seed.
Without knowing it, nearly a decade before they found themselves trapped in the confines of a half-built monument to disorder, David and Katrina made a small decision that would have huge implications in their lives. It was the tail end of the devastating financial crisis of 2008, and many big banks were being exposed for their nasty habit of prioritizing profits to the harm of their customers. It was then that on a whim, David and Katrina decided to close their accounts with Bank of America in order to find “a more personable, community oriented place” to conduct their banking. They decided to join Unitus. Call it karmic order, divine providence, or plain old good luck. While they didn’t think much of the move at the time, they now understand it to be one of the most influential decisions of their lives.
David & Katrina called Unitus to brainstorm their options. In spite of the daunting circumstances facing them, they were confident: “We never got the impression that anyone at Unitus would be punitive or rush to close things up; as long as we were making good faith, we were confident there would be some options available to us,” asserted David. He would be right.
Given the unusual circumstances surrounding their predicament, and all that was at stake for this young family, their case was quickly escalated to Ronda Wagner, Assistant Vice President of Consumer Lending at Unitus. Long a champion of a member in need of a creative solution, Ronda scheduled a time to sit down with the new parents and determine how they could reach a successful outcome together.
Before long, Ronda recruited a close ally from the Unitus Lending team to help resolve the members’ dilemma. She brought in Chief Lending Officer Brian Devereux, recognizing that he serendipitously possessed the particular combination of skills and experience needed to guide David and Katrina toward a successful outcome. In addition to his consumer lending savvy, he’d had a long history in the construction industry. This left him uniquely capable of seeing the couple through both the financial- and construction-specific challenges they so dearly needed to clear.
Collaborating with David and Katrina, Ronda and Brian set out to co-create a two-pronged plan: firstly, they’d need to grant the young parents the funds to complete this largescale project. Having achieved that, they’d need to make sure that if they lent out the money, it would be used efficiently and effectively; they wouldn’t allow history to repeat itself leaving the family high and dry. They would see that this next phase of the job would be completed not only on time, but to a standard of excellence beyond reproach. With Brian on board, they together developed a realistic budget and timeline toward project completion.
With a plan in hand, the first challenge was to responsibly loan David and Katrina the money they needed. The Unitus lending duo calculated that if the couple took out a loan based on the current value of their home, they would come up short of their project budget. In need of another solution, Brian and Ronda negotiated a deal to provide the family a loan based not on the current value of their home, but instead on what the value of the home would be after completing the renovations. It required faith in the members, and was considered largely thanks to David and Katrina’s proven track record of diligence, scrupulousness, and follow through over time. “Unitus doesn’t typically offer construction loans but they made an exception,” remembered David. “I think that our progress and the personal effort we’d put into the project made them more willing to work with us.”
Having obtained the money needed for the new construction project, the team turned their attention to ensuring successful completion of the work. Here’s where Brian’s knowledge came into sharp relief: “Brian’s insight was invaluable,” David attested. “’Here are some of the things you need to consider (he told us),’ like writing in a 10% contingency. He allowed us to fully understand the gravity of the project instead of us trying to minimize it because we wanted to get the project done and get the funding. He took the mindset of ‘if you’re going to do it, do it well.’ It was really helpful because we needed that guidance. We needed to hear that.”
Brian and Ronda played an active role from beginning to end. Before work began, they vetted prospective contractors and helped David and Katrina select the right one. They conducted interviews, clarified the scope of work ahead of time, and evaluated bids to make sure the next crew would be capable of completing the project to excellence. During the project, they negotiated mutually favorable terms for both the members and contractors, and helped to keep both parties on track. “They were really helpful throughout the entire process,” remembered David. “They were educational, really supportive, and gave us a lot of good information on what to look out for. Brian was familiar with the terminology and the process, and gave us some really helpful tools to keep our contractor on track and keep us focused on budget.” Finally, from the start of the project through to its completion, Brian and Ronda regularly visited the home to make sure construction was progressing according to plan and to advocate for the members where changes were needed.
Not long after they’d arrived, it seemed, the construction crews were gone. The framing and drilling and painting were done. The cacophonic clutter that was once as pedestrian as a Portland drizzle surrendered to a new order of peace and spaciousness.
It was onto bigger and better things for David and Katrina. They refinanced their home loan with Unitus Mortgage, consolidating several liens on their home into a single, manageable loan. With that, their financial commitments mirrored the path of their home. Where chaos had ruled the day, they found order. Where limbo might have languished, they found new life.
“Many lenders would have foreclosed on their home, leading to even more anguish for them when they most needed help,” said Ronda. “Not us – we believed in them.” Instead of dismissing the members for having too many financial obligations and too much leverage, she doubled down on their potential, recruiting the Chief Lending Officer to advocate for their cause. Brian jumped into action to serve the members, using his unique skill set to envision creative new solutions for them. “They went above and beyond,” David recalled. “They were really supportive of us through this process, and in many ways very supportive of our future and the life we hoped to build with our kids in our new home.”
Now dutifully buzzing around a living space almost three times the size it used to be only one or two short years ago, life is a little simpler for David and Katrina. But only a little, they will admit. After all, their twin toddlers have since discovered their own new allies: legs! Legs which can help propel them into previously unimagined crevasses and corners throughout their home! For these young parents it’s on to their next challenge: focusing their attention on raising those two little boys – in addition to the countless others they advocate for every day. “It’s an incredible space for our boys – just a great home for two little kids to grow up in,” David glows, characteristically leaving his own needs out of the equation.
Posted By: Jacob Schnee
About the Author: Jacob joined Unitus as Marketing Specialist in March 2015 and transitioned to Marketing Communications Specialist in March 2017.
His experience has spanned hospitality, business development, consulting, and marketing in various industries along the east coast, west coast and in between.
When he is not developing internal and external communications for Unitus, he is engaging in recreational fitness, studying personality types and exploring the outdoors with his wife, dog, and baby.