ESOP Descriptions

Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) is a nonprofit HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency, and program of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, which helps adults in all stages of life achieve and maintain financial wellness and housing stability. ESOP was founded in 1993 by the late Inez Killingsworth, a community organizer and Purpose Prize honoree who realized that the solution to many neighborhood challenges could be found by engaging community members. In its early days as the East Side Organizing Project, ESOP used community activism to combat predatory lending and other disreputable financial practices in Cleveland neighborhoods.

As the organization evolved into Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People, ESOP shifted focus to provide individuals with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure their financial wellness and housing stability. In 2017, they joined Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging to strengthen the ability of both organizations to provide services which address the intersection between physical and financial health. Since its foundation, ESOP has helped more than 65,000 homeowners across Ohio save their homes from foreclosure.

Looking for financial and housing support? Explore our services below:

Asset Publisher

Asset Publisher

Our Team

Our Team

Michael Billnitzer, SHRM-SCP

Executive Director of ESOP, Vice President at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Contact: contactme@benrose.org | (216) 373-1854

Michael Billnitzer is the Executive Director of Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), where he oversees the strategic development, operations and implementation of ESOP’s programs. He also serves as a Vice President at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Michael Billnitzer is the Executive Director of Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), where he oversees the strategic development, operations and implementation of ESOP’s programs. He also serves as a Vice President at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Billnitzer has 25 years of human resources and organizational development (OD) experience, and a passion for strategic planning, performance management and leadership development. His recently led projects at ESOP include: Board Transformation and Development (2014); Executive Director Search and Transition Process (2013); Strategic Planning Implementation (2011); and HR and OD Transformation (2010).

Billnitzer has a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Toledo with additional studies at Harvard University, is a certified trainer of Blanchard's "Situational Leadership" and a 2014 graduate of the Social Transformation Project's "The Art of Transformational Consulting." He is a Senior Certified Professional with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM-SCP), and currently serves on the Steering Committee for The Cleveland Foundation’s HR Collaborative for Non-Profit organizations. Billnitzer’s clients and employers have ranged from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits.

Sonya Edwards

Principal Broker and Executive Director, Branches Real Estate

Contact: BranchesRE@benrose.org | (216) 313-8214

Sonya Edwards is the Principal Broker and Executive Director of Branches Real Estate. A native of Windham, Ohio, Sonya became a real estate salesperson in 1996 and has worked in various capacities throughout her years in the industry. She joined Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a community organizing-focused nonprofit organization, in 2012 after having worked through the 2008 real estate market crash and witnessing firsthand the disproportionately large and disastrous effects it had on vulnerable populations such as senior citizens. From 2012-2014 she worked as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate whom with ESOP has helped over 65,000 homeowners prevent foreclosure. In 2013, she became the Director of Financial Counseling for ESOP, during which she launched the Real Estate division of the organization, ESOP Realty. Following a 2021 rebranding campaign, ESOP Realty began doing business as Branches Real Estate.

Sonya Edwards is the Principal Broker and Executive Director of Branches Real Estate. A native of Windham, Ohio, Sonya became a real estate salesperson in 1996 and has worked in various capacities throughout her years in the industry. She joined Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a community organizing-focused nonprofit organization, in 2012 after having worked through the 2008 real estate market crash and witnessing firsthand the disproportionately large and disastrous effects it had on vulnerable populations such as senior citizens. From 2012-2014 she worked as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate whom with ESOP has helped over 65,000 homeowners prevent foreclosure. In 2013, she became the Director of Financial Counseling for ESOP, during which she launched the Real Estate division of the organization, ESOP Realty. Following a 2021 rebranding campaign, ESOP Realty began doing business as Branches Real Estate.

Sonya holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Northwestern Ohio. Her expertise, training, and designations are as follows:

  • Senior Real Estate Specialist: handling real estate transactions for clients that are age 50 or older
  • Short Sale and Foreclosure Specialist: assisting sellers and buyers through the short sales, foreclosed and REO properties
  • Certified New Home Co-Broker: assisting builders and buyers through the new construction process
  • Cleveland Crain’s 2021 Top Residential Real Estate Agents
  • Member of the Greater Cleveland Home Builder Association

Sonya’s strong background in real estate, financial counseling, and community organizing were paramount to the launch of ESOP Realty DBA Branches Real Estate. She had the foresight to bring a diverse group of community revitalization practitioners, affordable housing developers, nonprofit administrators, financial counselors, attorneys, and salespeople together to create Branches Real Estate, Ohio’s first full-service, nonprofit real estate agency.

Antoinette Smith

Director of Housing and Financial Counseling

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1850

Antoinette Smith is the Director of Housing and Financial Counseling for ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People) where she oversees all Housing and Financial Counseling programs and reporting. Smith has more than two decades’ experience of direct service for clients who present with multiple needs related to finances, housing, and health. Her work requires managing teams and projects, as well as collaboration with numerous departments and external community partners

Antoinette Smith is the Director of Housing and Financial Counseling for ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People) where she oversees all Housing and Financial Counseling programs and reporting. Smith has more than two decades’ experience of direct service for clients who present with multiple needs related to finances, housing, and health. Her work requires managing teams and projects, as well as collaboration with numerous departments and external community partners.

Smith is a HUD-certified counselor and earned a bachelor’s degree in non-profit administration from Cleveland State University. She is an active board member for Changing Lives Foundation and an Executive Council Member for Prevent Blindness, Ohio Affiliate’s Chapter. 

Ana Gonzalez

Senior Housing and Financial Counselor

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | 216) 373-1851

Ana Gonzalez is a Senior Housing and Financial Counselor with Empowering and Strengthening
Ohio’s People (ESOP). ESOP is a non-profit HUD approved housing and financial counseling
agency and is a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Building on her experience in
client services at community development corporations, Ana began working for ESOP in 2008
where she started as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate.

Ana Gonzalez is a Senior Housing and Financial Counselor with Empowering and Strengthening
Ohio’s People (ESOP). ESOP is a non-profit HUD approved housing and financial counseling
agency and is a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Building on her experience in
client services at community development corporations, Ana began working for ESOP in 2008
where she started as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate.

Ana is a HUD Certified Counselor, and she holds several qualifications in financial, housing, and benefits counseling, including certifications from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), NeighborWorks, and the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP). She has made significant contributions to ESOP’s housing stability services, homebuyer education, and free income tax preparation in partnership with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Ana completed her education at Cleveland State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Bridget Holmes

Real Estate Agent, Housing Counselor

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1789

Bridget Holmes is a REALTOR® for Branches Real Estate and is a HUD-Certified Housing Counselor for the Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) organization. Holmes is a full-service real estate agent and is an expert in preparing first-time homebuyers, last-time sellers, and everybody in-between.

Bridget Holmes is a REALTOR® for Branches Real Estate and is a HUD-Certified Housing Counselor for the Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) organization. Holmes is a full-service real estate agent and is an expert in preparing first-time homebuyers, last-time sellers, and everybody in-between.

Before coming to ESOP, Holmes worked as a Homeownership Counselor and has helped people stabilize their credit and finances through her work with Huntington Bank, Dollar Financial Group, and Neighborhood Housing Services, among others. Holmes has extensive experience in helping future homebuyers prepare themselves for homeownership by means such as determining creditworthiness and helping them stabilize their credit and finances, helping them transition from their current housing situations into desirable long-term solutions, and helping them learn the ins-and-outs of all things housing.

Holmes is a native of Berea, Ohio and is actively working to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree from the Cleveland State University. Holmes also holds multiple degrees from Lakeland Community College.

Bolanle Ogundapo

Financial Empowerment Coach

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-2024

Bolanle "Bo" Ogundapo is a Financial Empowerment Coach with Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging's Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People (ESOP). Prior to joining ESOP, Bolanle worked in case management. As a Financial Empowerment Coach, Bolanle is able to assist clients with financial counseling, property taxes, rental assistance, and other financial hardships.

Bolanle "Bo" Ogundapo is a Financial Empowerment Coach with Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging's Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People (ESOP). Prior to joining ESOP, Bolanle worked in case management. As a Financial Empowerment Coach, Bolanle is able to assist clients with financial counseling, property taxes, rental assistance, and other financial hardships.

Bolanle’s experience in case management has assisted her in quick problem-solving skills, conflict management, and empathetic listening. Bolanle taught English in Mexico and Ecuador, which also made her advanced in Spanish.

Bolanle is a HUD-certified housing counselor and licensed Zumba instructor. Bolanle graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in psychology, minor in Spanish, and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) Certificate. 

Elizabeth Sanchez

Homeownership Manager

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1823

Elizabeth Sanchez is a HUD-Certified Housing Counselor and is the Homeownership Manager for Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. She works in collaboration with the Branches Real Estate team to help new buyers prepare for homeownership. She also provides homeownership education and counseling for people all stages of life from buying or selling their first homes or transitioning out of their last homes.

Elizabeth Sanchez is a HUD-Certified Housing Counselor and is the Homeownership Manager for Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. She works in collaboration with the Branches Real Estate team to help new buyers prepare for homeownership. She also provides homeownership education and counseling for people all stages of life from buying or selling their first homes or transitioning out of their last homes.

Elizabeth is bilingual, and regularly hosts housing and aging-in-place trainings in Spanish and English. Our goal is to ensure successful, sustainable homeownership for people of all income levels and backgrounds. As an educated consumer, they will have the tools, capacity and options to make good choices about whether and what to buy.

Prior to joining ESOP, Elizabeth worked as the Homeownership Program Manager for the Famicos Foundation, and as a Homebuyer Development Manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, bringing over 18 years' experience providing financial counseling and homebuyer education. 
 

Rachel Slomovitz

Housing and Financial Counselor

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1769

For more than a decade, Rachel Slomovitz has provided support and resources to individuals and families in crisis seeking self-sufficiency and empowerment. Rachel built on a successful career as a real estate appraiser when she joined Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a non-profit, HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency and subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. 

For more than a decade, Rachel Slomovitz has provided support and resources to individuals and families in crisis seeking self-sufficiency and empowerment. Rachel built on a successful career as a real estate appraiser when she joined Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a non-profit, HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency and subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. 

Since 2009, she has counseled over 5,000 homeowners needing assistance with foreclosure prevention. Rachel is a HUD Certified Counselor and holds several certifications in financial coaching/counseling including the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), NeighborWorks, Credit Builders Alliance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and more.

She is also an Ohio Benefits Bank Counselor, an adult vision screener, a volunteer income tax preparer and site coordinator, and she served as one of the first lead counselors on an innovative property tax loan program for older adults. Rachel is a member of the Cuyahoga County Adult Protective Collaborative that focuses on issues relating to elder abuse and exploitation.
 

Tiffany Taylor

Assistant Director of Housing and Financial Counseling

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1849

Tiffany Taylor is the Assistant Director of Housing and Financial Counseling with Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP). ESOP is a non-profit HUD approved Housing and Financial Counseling Agency and is a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Tiffany began working for ESOP in 2013 where she started out as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate, then went on to work as a Financial Empowerment Coach for several years. Tiffany was then promoted to Assistant Director of Housing and Financial Counseling in 2019, where she has played an integral role in Program Development, Managing and Training the staff, alongside the Director of Housing and Financial Counseling.

Tiffany Taylor is the Assistant Director of Housing and Financial Counseling with Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP). ESOP is a non-profit HUD approved Housing and Financial Counseling Agency and is a subsidiary of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Tiffany began working for ESOP in 2013 where she started out as a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate, then went on to work as a Financial Empowerment Coach for several years. Tiffany was then promoted to Assistant Director of Housing and Financial Counseling in 2019, where she has played an integral role in Program Development, Managing and Training the staff, alongside the Director of Housing and Financial Counseling.

Tiffany is a HUD Certified Counselor through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and she holds several certifications in Financial Coaching/Counseling from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), Neighbor Works, TRI-C, and Credit Builders Alliance.

Tiffany completed her education at Indiana Wesleyan University in Ohio where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management.

Cynthia Walker

Medicare and Benefit Enrollment Counselor

Contact: esopreceptionist@benrose.org | (216) 373-1650

Cynthia Walker is a Benefits Specialist at Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), an agency that helps adults in all stages of life achieve and maintain financial wellness and housing stability. ESOP is a subsidiary of The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Walker has been with the ESOP for 12 years, providing various services such as being a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate, a Financial Literacy Counselor, a Financial Workshop Facilitator including Home Buyers Education classes and Pre-Purchase Counseling.

Cynthia Walker is a Benefits Specialist at Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), an agency that helps adults in all stages of life achieve and maintain financial wellness and housing stability. ESOP is a subsidiary of The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. Walker has been with the ESOP for 12 years, providing various services such as being a Foreclosure Prevention Advocate, a Financial Literacy Counselor, a Financial Workshop Facilitator including Home Buyers Education classes and Pre-Purchase Counseling.

In addition, Walker is a HUD certified counselor as well as serving as certified Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP) counselor for the last five years. She is a graduate from Kent State University, with a Bachelor of Business Administration and an Associate Degree in Applied Accounting.