El’Martez heard throughout his teenage years that he had potential."'Potential, potential, potential.' I kept hearing that, but no one ever just said, 'You know, you're great.' I kept asking myself, 'What is this potential?' And I'm still finding out. This word means that my future is limitless."
El'Martez and his mother were offered public housing when he was 12 years old, a lucky break that offered a new sense of stability to the family. Though money was tight, the sense of home and structure was strong. "We had enough for needs. And that was enough for us. I had respectable clothes, new shoes when I grew out of old ones. My mom was able to keep us together. It was really a break for our family."
El'Martez took advantage of support and mentors throughout his adolescence. Through the "DO YOUR B.E.S.T." summer youth employment program. he secured a summer job with DC Writer’s Corps.
''Working at the DC Writers Corps was hugely eye-opening for me. I found that I stood taller, spoke better, listened respectfully, and that people listened to me. Suddenly, I realized that there was so much more available in life to anyone who could work hard."
El'Martez has earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He currently works for the Washington, D.C. Department of Education and is pondering his next move, perhaps a Ph.D.
Growing up in public housing was like growing up in one giant family for Darrell, who recalls all of the mentors who helped him work towards his goals in life. One of his main goals now? Giving back.
"I grew up in this area, and I wanted to come back and give back the same thing people were doing for me – work with young people today because we find out that young people, they really just need someone to help them to have a goal in their life."
For the last several years, Darrell has been doing just that – putting others’ dreams within reach. "If you tell me you want to be an attorney, then I want to work with you to make sure you're doing the things to get to be an attorney… attend a pre-college program, college tours, things like that." For Darrell, students who don’t go to college, who don’t graduate, they don’t fall by the wayside.
''The two students who didn't graduate – they don't disappear. They will graduate this year. So we have an umbrella to catch these students who would just drop out."
"I grew up in public housing, so I understand why public housing is needed. A lot of people have a different view of the value of public housing, and I see a real need for public housing – for kids like me who needed a place to start."
Ray is one of nine children, all of whom grew up in public housing, all of whom now own their own homes, are successful, and all of whom are forever grateful for the stability that public housing provided to them. Now, the Executive Director of the Worcester Housing Authority in Worcester, Massachusetts, and former Mayor of Worcester, Ray recalls all that public housing gave to him, as a kid and as an adult.
"Public housing is supposed to be transitional. It's supposed to be a stop along the way for families who need a helping hand – someone who can't find a job. Someone like my dad who was a returning veteran and was disabled."
Having a stable home gave Ray’s family an opportunity to actually be a family, for the parents to parent and for the children to be kids.
''If you’re a parent and worried about where your children are going to sleep, you're not worried about them learning to study, to read, to do mathematical calculations. If you can get housing out of the way, then you can worry about the other things that are important in life. Once my family was able to get housing for the children, everything else fell into place."
Joshua considers himself a man of faith, a son, a husband, a father, and a patriot. He is also a disabled veteran and a Marine. Today, Joshua works with his community as a case manager, helping to assimilate veterans from homelessness back into a life of stability and self-sufficiency. Before getting to this point, though, Joshua himself walked several miles in the shoes of the homeless, the impoverished, and the unemployed. Joshua knows what it is like to be a single parent of multiple children, live without transportation, and scrape by on little or nothing. He says these experiences pushed him to persevere, build his character, and taught him to hold onto hope even when circumstances seem hopeless.
When Joshua found himself down on his luck, without a job, and trying to support his children, a partnership was forming between the Longview Housing Authority (LHA), the Veterans Administration (VA), and the Kelso (Washington) VFW Veterans Service Office (VSO) with the goal of developing a housing program for homeless veterans This program, the Veterans Integration Program (VIP), was designed to assimilate veterans from homelessness back into stability and self-sufficiency. Through a VA outreach vehicle at the homeless shelter where Joshua and his family were living, he applied to VIP, was accepted, and entered housing at LHA.
Unsatisfied with merely housing veterans, LHA implemented case management into the VIP. The case managers were tasked with establishing relationships by coaching, cheering on, and advocating for program participants. This commitment to excellence and genuine care for individuals produced a lasting relationship that continued after Joshua graduated from the program, and inspired him to continue his own work with veterans.
Joshua continued service at the VSO through a National Service Program called AmeriCorps. As a member of AmeriCorps and after working with veterans for a combined three years, a vacancy opened at LHA, and he became the Veterans Employment and Outreach Specialist. This work ultimately led to a permanent position as a case manager for the very same program that he had gone through just a few years before.
Now, as a Veteran Support Case Manager, Joshua has the opportunity to uphold and deliver the same standard of excellence that he received through the programming introduced to him as a resident at LHA. He can now sow into the lives of other veterans the seeds of hope that he felt as a client in the program.
Annie lived in St. Paul Public Housing Agency in St. Paul, Minnesota for her entire life, and her family experienced frustrating financial restrictions and government regulations that sometimes come with living in public housing. However in time, she realized that her family, headed by her single mom, would not have survived without public housing.
She is eternally grateful for the sense of stability and security that public housing instilled in her childhood, which also exposed her to a huge range of cultures and beliefs. This experience impacted Annie in many positive ways and has pushed her to be the most compassionate young woman she can strive to be.
Public housing also gave Annie much more in 2012. She was awarded the Stephen J. Bollinger Memorial Scholarship, which is granted to one graduating high school student on behalf of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA). Upon notification of this scholarship, she met many of the employees who worked at St. Paul Public Housing Agency, and was offered an internship in their offices during the summer of 2013.
The opportunity to see the housing agency from a different angle has been an incredible experience for Annie, and to have the opportunity to bring her experience as a lifelong resident to discussions is an honor. Annie says she will always fight to have her voice heard about the misconceptions of public housing and residents, because she knows just how necessary such organizations are.
Breast Cancer Survivor and Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Homeowner.
Growing up, Kelly looked to her parents as homeowners and knew that for her, homeownership would be her ultimate goal. She was a single parent and moved into Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Section 8 housing in her early twenties, and began budgeting and saving to become a homeowner.
Kelly participated in the FSS Homeownership Program, where participants build skills to save toward their target goal. Enrolled participants take monthly classes to learn to budgeting skills, work with savings tools like an Individual Development Account (IDA), and meet with coaches who track their progress.
Before she completed the program, Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through her hard work and the support of her coach, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (North Carolina), and her family, she was able to complete the program while in treatment.
Kelly is now a three-time cancer survivor and a homeowner; closing on her first house in September 2014. She is also a Commissioner for the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem (North Carolina), a face for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Chairperson of the Comprehensive Cancer Center Patient and Family Advisory Council at Wake Forest Baptist Health Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
When asked about the assistance the housing agency offered, Kelly said, “If you dream of becoming a homeowner, even while battling a serious illness, you still have the tools to make your dreams come true.”