For Tracie Coffman, ’01 & ’06, the choice to study social work was a no-brainer. By the time of her high school graduation, she knew that giving a voice to the disenfranchised was what she was meant to do. She enrolled in the social work program at Grand Valley and “never thought twice about it.” Not too long after, she became the first financial counselor for Home Repair Services in Grand Rapids.
Coffman is a natural trailblazer. During her sophomore year, she joined the university’s first women’s rugby team. She remembers that they had to practice on the plot of land that now occupies the Alumni House.
“Everything was really just pieced together that first year, but it was a lot fun,” she said. “We got approval from GVSU to be a club, but had basically no budget. I fronted the money for the teams’ first jerseys and we did carwashes and other fundraisers to raise money.”
Unfortunately, Coffman only played for one year. By her junior year, she was fully immersed in her path in social work and there was only room in her schedule for one passion.
The next year, Coffman had heard about Home Repair Services through her internship at the Children Family Resource Council. While the job description requested someone with a background in finance, Coffman knew her talents would be well suited for the job.
“What they were looking for when they were initially hiring for this position was a banker; someone who knew the mortgage industry,” Coffman said. “But I really saw it as a social work position.”
She turned out to be right. Even though foreclosures were a rare occurrence at the time, shortly after Coffman started working for Home Repair Services, the mortgage crisis of 2001 hit. Hundreds of families were in danger of losing their homes and needed somewhere to turn.
“The education that I received from Grand Valley had shown me that a family who was about to lose their house was going to be in a much bigger crisis,” she said. “You can teach me the mortgage stuff, but you couldn’t necessarily teach a mortgage person all the social and personal skills that I had.”
Since then, her program has grown and improved with every year. The goal that she set during her senior year of high school came to fruition.
“I get to spend every day working with people who are losing their homes and helping them have a voice in a system that is not set up hear their plea,” she said.
This year, her efforts were recognized by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Coffman received the Good-to-Great award for taking Home Repair Services to new heights. She has also been awarded with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority Councilor of the Year in 2009 and in 2010 with the Grand Rapids Bar Association Liberty Bell Award.