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Fountain Fund hits the million dollar mark

Martize Tolbert
Martize Tolbert is Director of Client and Community Engagement for the Fountain Fund

Hines Washington is the founder of a company that provides transportation for wine tours and weddings. Today he’s taking UVA students like Sarah and Wanna to the annual races at Foxfield – a six-hour party.

“We’re going to be drinking at this event, and so to not have a designated driver between the two of us is attractive and feels safe,” Sarah explains.

On board, Washington is a man of few but friendly words.

“Hey guys. Good morning," he calls out to passengers. "First of all, thanks for riding Hines Entertainment and Tours. I’m Hines. (applause) Thank you. Alright, I’ve got three simple rules: one – no smoking. Two – if you can’t handle your alcohol, you call Earl, there’s a $400 clean-up fee, and three: what happens on my bus stays on my bus. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the day.” (applause)

Washington is a successful businessman, a confident, happy taxpayer, but some years ago he sat behind bars for a drug-related offense, and when he got out it was impossible to find work.

“Everybody looks down on you for what you’ve done instead of giving you a second opportunity,” he says.

So Washington turned to a Charlottesville group called the Fountain Fund, headed by Erica Viccellio.

“There are so many discriminatory policies and practices in place that make it difficult for people returning to their communities to have access to the same things that we all have and that you need to be successful and to achieve your goals,” she says.

Like a loan for a car, the first month’s rent and damage deposit on an apartment or money to start a business.

“Most all of our client partners wouldn’t qualify for traditional lines of credit, because they don’t have credit,” Viccellio says.

The Fountain Fund offers low-interest loans and a chance to establish or improve credit ratings by paying the money back.

“Last year 81% of our client partners either established or improved their credit,” she crows.

To support success, the fund offers classes in money management.

“As part of everyone’s loan agreement they do one of the workshops, but then we also have access to free one-on-one financial wellness coaching," she explains. "What may be more important than that is having someone believe in you. And they’ve tried to prove us right every time, and that’s how we pay forward the loans. Of the more than $1 million that we’ve lent out, more than $400,000 of that has been recycled.”

Martize Tolbert was an early client at the Fountain Fund. When he was 19 he was sentenced for a non-violent drug offense to six years in prison plus court costs – a sum he could not pay. Penalties and interest pushed the total to nearly $13,000!

"I was working at a job making $8 an hour," he recalls. "My apartment was $500. I had child support, and my checks were getting garnished. Everything about my life at that point was going down.

And to make matters worse, Virginia law at that time denied him a driver’s license until he paid those court costs. The Fountain Fund came to the rescue.

"Within 2.5 months I had my license. Within 3.5 months I had a raise. Within 6 months I quit that job and had a better-paying job."

Today, Tolbert works for the fund as director of client and community engagement. The organization has worked with 200 people, making more than 250 loans, and Washington it’s restored the self-esteem needed to succeed at life.

"They give you motivation and tell you what you need to do to accomplish what you need to accomplish, and they are right there to support you every step of the way to get you to where you need to be."

Edwin Melton can also attest to the success of the Fountain Fund. When his father died, he saw how much help his mom needed around the house, so with a low interest loan he started a business doing home maintenance, moving and assembling furniture, painting and more. He calls his company Husband for Hire.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief