Operation HOPE opens inside First Horizon

Staff members of First Horizon Bank and Operation HOPE gather Monday afternoon for a photo. From left: Miranda Ramsey, Richard Schaefer, Julie Rex, Tammy Jones, Mayor Gary Chesney, Jennifer Keller, Timothy Coley, Melissa Duong, Lee Atkins, Deborah Porter, Allen Pickel, Adam Ivey, Ali Ayca and Kevin Hefner.

Citizens of the Lakeway Area now have a new place to go where they can get advice on how to get on better financial ground.

Operation HOPE opened an office inside the main First Horizon Bank office on West First North Street in Morristown Monday. “Hope Inside” is the 28th of 30 offices that Operation HOPE is opening across the state of Tennessee.

“We’re very excited about the opening of our Operation HOPE office,” Timothy Coley said. “I see community leaders here, those from industry, and of city government.”

Operation HOPE is a non-profit organization that focuses on disrupting poverty and empowering people for inclusion of the low-level to moderate income individuals in the community. This is provided to the community at no charge for at least two years. It was started by John Hope Bryant after the Rodney King riots in 1992 in Los Angeles.

“(We want to) break the cycle of negative mindsets,” Coley said. “We are very excited about this service. This is a way that First Horizon’s chairman has said to give back to the community.”

In 2014, First Horizon Bank Chairman Brian Jordan committed to partner with Operation HOPE and started the first “Hope Inside” office in Memphis.

“That facility was so successful that that we committed to open up 30 additional offices across our footprint,” Coley said. “That footprint is multi-state with locations in both Carolinas, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi. I couldn’t be more pleased that to do that at this location in Morristown.”

“It is an impactful day,” Mayor Gary Chesney said. “I read the background story on John Hope Bryant who started this program. It’s an impressive track record. It’s economic empowerment, financial dignity, those things where we understand the concept of wanting to turn paycheck cashers into bank customers, but also paycheck cashers into money managers and credit managers. This is the kind of information that public education in the last two years are working this into their curriculums,” Chesney said.

When asked what impact this program would have on Morristown, Chesney said that having this program enriches the fabric of any community, not just Morristown.

“Anytime where folks learn how to make more informed decisions about their personal well-being that enriches the fabric of any community, not just ours. Education always has been and always will be the solution to society challenges. I applaud First Horizon for your vision and leadership in recognizing this and your efforts through Project Hope,” Chesney said.

Project Hope Financial Well-Being Coach Lee Akins is overseeing the Morristown “Hope Inside” office.

“Bryant (in 1992) decided he wanted to do something to help people to be able to overcome their mindset of not understanding money,” Akins said. “Operation HOPE works with clients in areas of small business development, home ownership, disaster preparedness and credit counseling. This office will be the credit counseling branch.”

Akins worked for the past five years as a personal banker at First Tennessee/First Horizon before starting to work with Operation HOPE.

“I’ve heard the stories that people come in and tell of ‘I can’t get a loan,’ ‘I’d love to have my own home, I’m paying so much in rent,’” Akins said. “I’ve heard those stories and with the opening of the Operation HOPE office, I’ll be able to work with our community to overcome their financial struggles and change their mindset when it comes to money.”

John Hope Bryant said that there is a difference between being broke and being poor.

“Being broke is a temporary economic condition, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of your spirit. You must vow to never, ever be poor again,” Akins said. “Through community workshops and one-on-one coaching, Operation HOPE seeks to help clients reduce debt, increase their savings and raise their credit score to 700 or above, ultimately changing that crippling mindset of being poor.”

When clients graduate from the program, Akins said that they will be equipped with the tools to take control of their finances, such as how to create a budget, use their money to pay off debt, read their credit report and dispute any items there and how to rebuild their credit program.

“It seems simple when it’s put like that,” Akins said. “We actually work with people for one to two years in order to rebuild their credit profile. We follow up every 30 days helping them through the process, helping them stay on track and reaching the goals we set for them when they come into our office for the first one-on-one coaching.”

Clients get this service free of charge for two years.

“This is invaluable to the people who have that mindset, ‘I’m never going to get out of this financially,’” Akins said. “I’m excited to be part of an organization that seeks to improve the underserved communities, seeks to improve the lives of low to moderate income people and I look forward to share with you how we’ve been able to do that.”