Q&A with Theresa Gibbons of Heartland Alliance’s Asset Building Program

Theresa Gibbons, Asset Building Program Director

As the Director of our Asset Building program, Theresa Gibbons helps Chicagoans not only escape poverty – she helps them build long-lasting financial security and wealth. See what makes her tick inside.

What got you into this work?

As the youngest of 5 kids, I’ve always been conscious of what I perceived as fairness—even if it was over who gets to ride in the front seat. The more I learned as I got older, I turned this sense into issues of economic opportunity and equity.  

Your program deals with both policy and direct service, could you explain in your own words why this is the case?

A lot of the narrative around financial security has to do with making sound financial decisions and planning for the future. But personal wealth is overwhelmingly determined by where you come from, what opportunities come your way, and how you are prepared to take advantage of them when they come. So we need to build both skills and opportunities for people to build wealth.

Participants celebrate at an Asset Building program graduation

Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

Several years ago our policy team created a racial wealth gap timeline that traced policies to help build wealth in the US (past and present) and the systematic exclusion of people of color. When you look at that, you can see how we ended up with the current wealth gaps – and it gives us some clues about how to bridge the divide. Doing this work at Heartland, where my colleagues are addressing this from so many angles, makes me feel like we can do something about it.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love hearing from team members when they celebrate victories—especially when they indicate a deeper shift, like a participant reporting that they aren’t afraid to open their mail or that they are sleeping better at night.

How can others help your work?

Let’s be more honest about the way we portray people’s choices as “good” or “bad” and recognize that people usually are doing the best they can. Oh, and we can also use volunteers for events and workshops!