Journey inspires housing advocate; An orphan from Ethiopia now helps families find homes

About this series: Mary Turck, a staff member at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, writes about new Austinites. 

By Mary Turck

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

Delivering counseling and education on home ownership, Ojoye Akane travels from Faribault to Rochester to Albert Lea to Austin. He logs a lot of miles in his work for Three Rivers Community Action. His travel around southern Minnesota is easy compared to the longer life journey that brought him here. That journey contributes to the passion that inspires his work with families and their homes.

Akane grew up in Ethiopia, an orphan raised by “multiple people,” including a grandma and two uncles. “Maybe that shaped my personality,” he said. “If you feel connected with a family, even if you don’t have parents, that family would shape your life.”

Akane arrived in the United States in 2004, staying first with an uncle in Mankato. He and his wife and children moved to Austin in 2011, buying a home in 2015.

Today, his home in Austin is filled with family — his wife, their four children, a step-daughter who now attends the University of Minnesota, and nieces, nephews and other relatives who frequently visit. In August, nieces and nephews came for extended visits highlighted by visits to the county fair.

“I’m passionate about children,” Akane says. He’s also passionate about his faith and about education. He drives children to Faith Church every Wednesday for services and religious education. “I just want them to come there, especially when the kids and their parents are not connected to any religious organization or church,” he explains. “To me, faith is part of my personality.”

Akane describes his job as an emerging market initiative created to provide financial and homeownership education and counseling services and advocate for minority home buyers. The initiative also serves other special needs populations, such as single parents and people with disabilities. He does short-term and long-term counseling for first-time home buyers, as well as delivering workshops for first-time home buyers.

Financial literacy workshops focus on skills such as budgeting and establish credit, and include an introduction to home ownership. Home Stretch workshops provide an in-depth overview of the home buying process, and are often required by financial institutions as a pre-condition for getting a mortgage.

“I love the work I’m doing,” Akane says. The best part of the work comes “when you see people’s face when they are closing or when they get that new home that they dream of.”

He sees his work as giving back to the community. “I am educated, I have connections – I have to use this to give it to the people that would benefit from it.”

With undergraduate and graduate work in urban studies, Akane has his sights set on a doctorate.  When you have a potential that you are not using, he says, “that is a recipe for more education — and more debt!”

His big dreams for the future include more work with young people and with his church.

“If God has given all this energy, scholarships, funds, the generosity of this country, if God has provided me with all this, my life should be a blessing,” he says. “I want to be a blessing in this community.”

Mary Turck is a freelance writer and editor, whose past work includes work as a lawyer, and teaching writing and journalism courses as an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University. She began doing communications work for ILCM as an independent contractor in 2017.

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