In 2010, 30-year-old Jeronna Bolden thought she had done everything right. She had a bachelor’s degree and had worked her way up from customer service rep to financial aid director in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Although she was a single mother to her then 6-year-old son, Jaevion, Bolden says she wasn’t struggling.
“It’s somewhat ironic and sad,” says Bolden, “But at that point, I never thought about money.”
Ready for a change, Bolden accepted a new job at a nonprofit in Indianapolis. She put most of her possessions in storage, loaded up her Lincoln Aviator, and headed off with Jaevion to start their new life. But within two days of their arrival, Bolden found out that the funding for her new job had fallen through.
Bolden’s $3,000 in savings was not enough to support her and her son for long. And the job market at the time was especially competitive, pitting Bolden against other applicants with master’s degrees or more. Bolden was unable to rent an apartment without a job, so they lived in hotels—and then in their car.
Eventually, Bolden and Jaevion landed in a homeless shelter, where they stayed for eight weeks—the maximum time allowed. Bolden also received assistance from various social agencies and nonprofits such as Dress for Success, which provides business attire for low-income women.
Through everything, Bolden was encouraged to think seriously about her own life and her son’s future.
“They told me, ‘Don’t stop having goals,’” says Bolden. “‘Even though you don’t have any money and you’re not working, make a strategy for the future now.’”
During the 17 months it took Bolden to get another full-time job, she reflected deeply on her own identity. In addition to building up her wardrobe and presenting herself professionally to potential employers, Bolden focused on her overall image.
“I had to think about how I portray myself to the world. For example, if I say that I am a good communicator, I really need to live up to that,” says Bolden.
Paying it Forward
Once fully employed again, Bolden began her own image-consulting business, ICON, LLC, which helps women identify their own professional identity and personal brand.
“I wanted to share what I had learned and help other women reach economic empowerment,” says Bolden.
When Linda Rousseau, 58, was looking to make a career change, Bolden helped her identify a personal motto and identity brand that Rousseau used in her job search.
Rousseau’s brand and motto allowed her to “focus with vision and direction” on where her passion lay and where she wanted to grow. Rousseau says Bolden’s past struggles make her a powerful mentor.
“[Bolden’s] firsthand experiences gave her wisdom to mentor other women toward self-sufficiency,” says Rousseau. “It allows her to show other women that no matter how hard life is sometimes, it could always be worse.”
Establishing a Money-Smart Family
Now a successful entrepreneur, Bolden also got married last year—she and her husband, Antonio, are serious about managing their finances. They are working to improve their credit scores, pay off all their debt, and stay on top of their mortgage.
“We’re really focused on getting the principal down—I always think about paying extra now,” says Bolden.
Jaevion, now 10 years old, has bank accounts and a college fund, and he is a master saver.
“Antonio jokes that Jaevion is never going to spend his money,” says Bolden. “He’s going to hold on to it for dear life!”
“And I’m already talking to Jaevion about credit,” says Bolden, with a laugh. “The things we went through definitely impacted him. But I think it is making him think progressively about his own financial interest and the things he wants later in life.”