Natalie Fofana greets home buyers, sellers, and guests with a soothing energy, radiant smile, and bubbly personality, reminiscent of the warm and inviting earth tones inside the new digs of her real estate company, Houzway. She opened the brokerage January 2019 after spending about five years working with Keller Williams.

At age 17, the Baton Rouge native became wildly intrigued by real estate, but the origins of her desire still mystify her.

“Nobody really in my immediate family, I knew, was like house flippers, or owned investment properties,” Fofana said. “Maybe some of my older family did it, but not my immediate that I was around on a constant basis.”

Natalie Fofana, owner of Houzway on Government street in Baton Rouge, LA. © Natalie Fofana

Regardless, she developed an insatiable hunger to build wealth for her future family around real estate. She initially desired to purchase a fourplex and live in one of the units; she remembers looking at newspaper listings for available ones in the Gardere area at a young age.

Her mother is a big part of her inspiration as well.

“My mom, she never actually owned her own home,” Fofana said. “She didn’t go to college. She didn’t have a degree. She rented her whole life.”

In addition, Fofana moved around a lot. Her mother struggled to raised her and her two older sisters the best she could as a single mother, which led to stints of living in different places. The constant moves growing up made Fofana determined to provide a stable home environment for her own daughter, Ahmani, who she gave birth to in 2002.

When Fofana started searching for a home at age 21, she discovered more about the whole real estate process, from working with a realtor to looking at houses. The in-depth experience further cultivated her passion for the market. She not only achieved the goal of purchasing a home with a yard for her daughter in her early twenties, but she also found purpose in the process.

At the time, she worked at Alltel, “before Verizon bought them out,” Fofana said with a chuckle. Her consistently excellent customer service during her time with the telecommunications provider made her a standout at the company.

“My clients always waited in line just for me,” Fofana said. She loved chatting with customers and helping them leave with more than just a phone—she wanted them to leave feeling better about the different life issues they shared with her.

As time moved forward, Fofana eventually combined her customer service skills, love of real estate and investment properties, and years spent studying business at Louisiana State University to enter the real estate market. Her friend, Danielle, who currently owns a brokerage in Plaquemine, encouraged her to obtain a real estate license, and Fofana followed the advice.

And now, despite the more than 3000 agents in Baton Rouge, Fofana continues to be successful in the capital city and surrounding areas. She stays on top of the industry and constantly seeks innovative ways to serve buyers and sellers. However, she knows her genuine personality and customer service remain two of her greatest assets.

“I am huge on customer service,” Fofana said. “If I don’t get good customer service…sometimes I won’t go back to the same place.”

She also offers customizable real estate options, which is her slogan, “Choose the Way You Real Estate.” Her services allow DIY sellers to pick what they need help with in order to save money. They can select help with marketing, home preparations and staging, showings, offers and negotiations, paperwork and contracts; or Houzway can assist sellers and buyers from start to finish.

Aside from her personal business methods, Fofana believes success stems from learning how to delegate.

“A lot of businesses fail by being the marketing, doing the business, answering the phone…like, we’re everything. At the same time, we may have a family life,” Fofana said. “You can’t really run a successful business as it should run trying to be a one-man show…we have to learn the tools of hiring people or even contracting out work.”

Looking ahead, Fofana plans to franchise her company and establish national Houzway locations. She recalls spending months pondering the best name for her company, making lists and poring over words in the dictionary with her husband. The “Houzway” name she created integrates the customizable options into her brand.

“The real estate market is changing. People want to have options when it comes to buying and selling a home,” she noted.

In addition, she wants people to see Houzway, and each agent is a well-trained representation of the company. She aims to provide both traditional and non-traditional commission programs for clients and agents. Houzway is bigger than her name.

“I love the motivating and the teaching part of the business as well. I feel almost like I’m a business coach in a sense,” Fofana said. “Eventually, I see myself investing in my agents and building my agents. As I do that, I don’t want people always looking for Natalie.”

The company is rapidly growing since its opening with four agents and a transaction coordinator.

Another goal Fofana plans to accomplish is a nonprofit to help single mothers purchase homes.

“My mom tried at some point to buy a house, years ago, and she was a little short,” Fofana said. “She went to her church, her family, but she wasn’t able to get her house because she didn’t have the rest of the funds.”

For a single mother to be so close to purchasing a home but forced to give up on that dream is crushing. Sometimes people need a little assistance with closing costs, and Fofana intends to help eliminate such obstacles. Putting people in homes is one of the many parts of the business she enjoys, especially those who never saw home ownership as a possibility.

While Fofana’s vision for Houzway is big, she offers this simple advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners: stay organized and invest back into your business. It is important to network and put yourself out in the public sphere, which is an investment. People must know you exist in order to do business with you.

“People think you just get into real estate, you have [closings], and it works. But there are a whole lot of steps to get to that point,” Fofana said.

She continues to navigate both the ups and downs of the business in order to make it work.

Sometimes she is challenged with changing her plans in order to accommodate clients with showings after hours. “Sometimes I can’t turn it off,” she remarked about her work. She admits keeping a consistent normal is difficult at times, but time management is key, and she strives to block her time accordingly in order to balance things.

As such, Fofana returns to the glass desk in her office with a sense of purpose, tapping calmly away at the keys, connecting with clients and responding to emails. A turntable sits on the sparse floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind her. Sometimes she comes across a photo of a client online, hosting a party in a home she helped sell. She loves thinking about how the home helped change the family dynamics. Life centers around the home, and Houzway served on the conduit to make it happen.

Houzway is located at 3950 Government St., Baton Rouge, La., 70806. You can also visit the brokerage online @houzway and at, or call (225) 315-5215.

Emotions produce fertile grounds for writers, and my mama has always told me that I wear mine on my shoulders. Basically, what she is telling me is that part of what makes me strong as a writer can also make me weak and defenseless when exposed to attack. The very thought of this hurts my emotions. I suppose Mama knew what she was talking about when she told me this in my teenage years, and she even reminds me of the same from time to time as an adult. I am a grown woman who still wears her feelings on her shoulders at times. Ask my husband. He agrees. In fact, he once told me he understands just exactly what my mama means now.

And I still wonder how do I not feel? Or better yet, how do I disconnect myself from something that is fundamentally intrinsic in the blueprint of being human. Or at least my understanding and my experiences with humanity, my connection to people by this intangible thing: feelings.

I started watching my mama and thinking about her life. How I never saw emotions weigh her down. Emotions never took her purpose. Emotions never broke her even after my daddy died. I was five years old at the time, and for all I know and imagine from pictures, my daddy was the love of my mama’s life. He was her fire. Her strength. Her laughter. And when his fire was extinguished in this world, and he heard his name called to walk in the Light of Jesus, I cried. But out the corner of my child eyes I also watched my mama. I didn’t see tears, but I saw a woman stand up and go to work each day to care for her seven children. I watched her cook dinners and ensure we were nourished as we all sat together and gave God thanks for our food. I watched Mama call us into her room each night, and we kneeled by the bed or sat on the floor and read the Word of God aloud together. I even watched, or rather felt, the sting of her switch when I allowed my shouldered feelings to burst forward in angry and disrespectful words or actions.

Of the seven of us, I am the youngest. I am the one plagued with these frustrating shouldered feelings, and so I felt angry after my father’s death. But Mama held on to her joy. I felt confused. But Mama walked with clarity. I hated God at the time. But Mama still took us to church, and she continued to pray, worship, and laugh with Jesus. Mama showed me that God was real because only a God could lift the boulder-sized feelings she must have felt on her shoulders and carry them for her.

I didn’t see her break. Instead, I watched Mama dance. Not literally, because I never saw her dance, like ever. But figuratively. She spun circles in the most figurative dance battle I have ever seen. She fox-trotted and break-danced her way through her grief, and I watched. My curious child eyes could not comprehend it. Sometimes I was even offended that she never broke down and cried. That she never threw a self-pity party asking God why? That she never gave up and quit. That she didn’t roll on the floor like a tantrum-possessed kid, screaming from the void that must’ve filled her heart at nights. I never heard hurt or malice in her voice, rather victory and Godly praises. I never heard her curse. I never heard her complain.

All I watched was this strong, heroic-like phenomenal woman break-dance in the rain—and boy, she can dance! Figuratively. (As a side note, I only have one sibling who I think can dance—literally.) I guess the rest of us inherited our mama’s none dancing skills. And I’m still trying to learn her metaphorical dance steps, if just a basic two-step. How do I move like Mama and let unkind people bounce off of me? How do I keep harsh voices from entering into my dreams? How do I not cry in defeat? How do I take these emotions off of my shoulders? How do I become more like this woman I call Mama?

I don’t know, but I continue to try dancing right beside her. And the more I learn her steps, the more I sometimes think I figured out what she did with her emotions. She wears them. Not on her shoulders, but in her heart and her spirit. Her emotions help fuel her to walk into hospitals and pray for the sick. Her emotions help her to give even when she is not rich. Her emotions inspire her to keep sharing the Gospel of Christ even when it is not always received. Her emotions compel her to see others set free.

Instead of letting her emotions rule her, my Mama uses them to propel her purpose. So in little ways I guess I might be learning to dance a little, tiny bit, like Mama. Instead of letting tears fall from my eyes so easily, I’ve learned to cry them from my spirit onto the page. Instead of my Mama letting grief overtake her life, my mother learned how to push it away. She tucked those moments of grief into her shoes. Then she reassigned their purpose, and turned it into some dancing fuel.

And boy, she can dance! Figuratively.

*I read this to my mama at the Listen to Your Mother Show exactly two weeks before she died. A good bit of my family also attended the event to celebrate her. The next Sunday was Mother's Day, and we celebrated again. I just remember my mama having such a great time and being so grateful all the time, including the weeks leading up to her passing. She died the Sunday after Mother's Day on May 21, 2017. In hindsight, God gave us time to say goodbye, and I count it all a great blessing to have spent so much time with her. The Tuesday before she died, I spent the whole day with her being silly and visiting people. This post is a small memory of her beauty, persistence, and faith. She will be forever loved.

That's my beautiful mother with me and four of my six siblings here. I'm the child in red.

Me and mommy, a picture I will forever treasure.

My sister Karen and my brother Mike (and me) with our dear mother after the show.

On Behalf of the Children About Our Mom--[I read this at my mama's funeral service-I hope it blesses and encourages you if you are dealing with grief]

Firstly, my siblings and I would like to thank everyone for their kindness to our family during this time of grief. Your outpouring of love and prayers have truly helped empower us and lessen our sorrow in many ways. We would also like to honor two special people who have been powerful forces in the life of our mother, especially in the last few months of her life. Sis. Jessie, thank you for the love and friendship you have shared with our mom throughout her life. Sis. Jessie. Also, Sis. Tammy Curry, thank you for coming visiting our mom often before, during, and after her surgery. Thanks for cooking for her, calling her, cleaning for her, and just being an amazing friend. She valued you both and talked of you two so often. She valued her friendships deeply.

In fact, we found in my mama’s own writing where she wrote about friends. This is part of what she wrote: “The idea that anyone can be friendless is upsetting to me. Friends are essential to our emotional, physical, and spiritual well being. Friends listen to our heartaches without blaming us for having problems…They are happy when we succeed and sad when we fail. They give us wise counsel and keep us from making foolish choices. They even risk making us angry for the sake of making us right. My friends have done all of this and more for me. I’m thankful for the friends I have now and have had for years.” Sis. Jessie, Sis. Tammy, and to everyone my mother called friend—that’s what she thought of you, and we thank God for everyone who returned her friendship throughout the years.

So, about our mom…Whether we called you Ma Dukes, Ma, Mama Lou, or just plain sweet Mama, we also called you great. We called you warrior. We called you fearless. We called you compassionate. We called you great woman of God. We called you our phenomenal black queen who kept leaping over trial after trial after trial with a jet pack packed with endurance to the end. We called you the never quitter, the never give up-per, the I don't care what the devil says-er, if God said it then it will be so-er. You so were full of insane faith that continued to grow as you watched God bring you out each and every trial.

And now that you're gone, as my brother Ben says, we get a little nervous wondering how we will make it without you. How will we make tough decisions without you? But then we think of all the things you taught us and all the sacrifices you've made for us. And it fills us with strength and happiness. You've given us everything we need to make it. All we have to do is use what you gave us. You poured the Word of God into us consistently, you poured love into us endlessly, and you poured enough wisdom into us to last many lifetimes.

You have joined that great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1, therefore Mama, we will strive to run strong with perseverance the race marked out for us. Thank you Mama for helping us know what endurance looks like for our course.

The week before your surgery, I remember telling you about the vacation Davin and I had planned during part of your recovery. We were planning to go visit family in Texas, but we would cancel it. You told me, "Don't y'all stop living your life just for me, I got people. I'm going to be just fine." And while you're gone from this earth, I imagine you telling me, all my siblings, your family, friends and the church some of the same: "Don't y’all stop living your life just for me, I got people. As of matter of fact, I am walking right next to King Jesus. I'm going to be just fine."

Death is not to be feared. My sister, Tamesia, you explained it beautifully last week and your words added to my peace. Just like an infant is pushed through the birth canal and enters this world unexpectedly with all these new sights and sounds, death is simply the vehicle that pushes us out of this world into the next one waiting for us. Mama, with all our hearts and souls we believe God pushed you into that glorious place of rest, and you are experiencing all the new sights and sounds of heaven's beauty. You are right in God’s presence. We have always just wanted our mom to be happy. We saw your smiling face every time we saw you, and we heard your joy in every single phone call and funny or encouraging voicemail you left. Of course we will miss you, but we cling to your legacy and wisdom. Our grief is simply like the afterbirth, the residue left after your transition. But we know God will clean it all up. And when He does, we will start hoping for more glorious transitions into that new joy you’re experiencing. I pray we all develop a deep hunger for heaven and live accordingly.

It’s funny how we talk so much about seeing Jesus. We tell people about Acts 2:38, about being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Ghost. And about living a Holy life. About being faithful to your calling. And we live our entire lives hoping for the reward my mama has obtained. Yet, few of us want to take that journey to the other side by death. We sorrow at the very thing we hope for one day. But I won’t grieve long because I too want to see King Jesus. I want to see my beautiful mama again. I want to see my dad. I want to see Bishop Allmon. Bro. Gerald. Mother Barnes. Sis. Janie. Sis. Rita. Sis. Lily Mae. Sis. Gert. I want to see the Mackeys, and I don't think I ever even met them. Just all the saints of God. Because I am well aware I stand here strong and full of faith because they all stood there and fought the good fight of faith before me. They made it a little bit easier for me. And a lot of you sit there because they stood up first for you too. I hope to honor my mom, my family, and this rich Apostolic heritage of Christ by continuing to stand and contend for the faith, and hopefully leave a legacy as rich behind as my mother and these great witnesses did.

To my siblings and family I offer these short poetic words---

Breath. Laugh. Live. Smile.

In spite of the tears that will fall from our eyes and shatter our hearts like a hurricane eye

In time—just remember, she didn’t die in vain

But her strength freely flows through our veins

It’s ingrained in our names

And every time we paint life in ink, or think or blink

Her soul sinks with pieces of our minds

So when we need a sign to reconcile her death

Let us stand in the mirror and look at our self

We inhale her breath

We are the deposit of her spirit she left to leave a legacy just like she did in this earth.

Our mama was a legend in my eyes.

And in some way, I fear wondering if I could ever live up to her giant steps.

But I realize something that she did well—she remained consistent in her calling.

She never wavered. She never quit. Whether chaos was around her or attacked her own personal life—she pressed and praised God through it all. I never saw her give up, and she had a lot of hardships. But she was steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. My mama has made heaven even more real to me, and has motivated me to keep putting in the work and pushing harder than I ever have before.

I’ll end by saying this: a month or so ago I was sitting with my mama at her home. And it just came over me, and I told her what a great husband I had. Like she didn’t know. Like she hadn’t told me before. But again, I told her how he treated me like a queen. And jokingly, I said, “I just don’t know what I did to deserve him.” I was joking yall…

But my mama looked at me and said, “Oh you didn’t do anything to deserve it. It’s just the grace and mercy of God.” By all estimations, I know a lot of you, like myself, feel like my mama deserves this rest in the arms of Christ. But perhaps my mama would say, “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, I made it Home only by the grace and mercy of God.” When she gave her life to Him, He kept her every day of her life like He promised He’d do for all of us.

My mama loved, trusted, and served for more than 40 consistent years of her life. She served the Lord for longer than I’ve been alive. It blows my mind. We give God praise for keeping our mama. We give God praise for her Godly example to me and my siblings. And we give Him praise in advance that we’re all going to make it Home to see her again one day and be with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts are filled with overwhelming gratitude for our mother. And if I could tell her any last words, I’d thank her again for her Godly example to me and my siblings. Because with Christ, we have joy and we have hope.

I started my Childhood Wonder collection a few years ago because I am fascinated with the freedom children have and their willingness to trust without question. God teaches us to love and trust Him like children, and I think it's so important to observe children from time to time to remember how simple they make life. I don't have any children of my own yet, but as an aunt and human I notice how children don't worry or fret for anything. They enjoy life. The kids in this shoot took direction very well, and brought their full personality to the shoot. My husband and I ran around with them, and I left the session full of enthusiasm despite my fatigue. Whenever life feels too heavy, I hope you too simply reflect on the wonders of childhood and remember a time when you were full of wonder, trust, and curiosity.

"But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." -Matthew 19:14

To see more from this collection, visit my Childhood Wonder album in my photography portfolio.

© Poet Noble & Company, LLC.     All rights reserved.

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