By Joseph D. Bryant
Housing Authority of the
Graduates have found jobs, moved to better jobs and have gone from public housing and public assistance to finding complete financial and housing independence.
Participants include both public housing residents and Housing Choice Voucher residents.
Earlier this month, the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District celebrated the life-changing success of residents who have reached their goal of self-sufficiency.
The latest class of Family Self-Sufficiency program participants successfully completed the program that features goal setting, mentoring and financial incentives to empower families to make positive life changes.
Here are some of their stories:
Beverly Fields: “You’re never too late to get what you want in life.”
Beverly Fields proudly calls herself living proof that anything is possible with patience and dogged determination.
Each day that she returns home from work – to her own house – Fields smiles with both pride and appreciation. Fields went from renting through the Section 8 program to owning her own home after years in the FSS program.
“I always wanted to thrive and do more and not just lean on the system to take care of us,” said Fields, the mother of three adult sons and a proud grandmother.
Fields attended the monthly FSS seminars, working toward her goal of homeownership.
“They had different speakers come and speak to us,” she recalled. “If you’re in it to learn from it and to grow from it, it’s an excellent program. They walk you through all these necessary steps.”
Fields eventually began to see tangible evidence of her improvement. Her credit score soared and she qualified for her dream home on a half-acre.
“I advise anyone to attend those classes and those workshops. I am a living witness. I found the house of my dreams,” she said.
And her work is still paying dividends.
“My house almost tripled in value from what I paid for it,” Fields said.
“Going through my lifetime of work and experience I always wanted to give back and be an inspiration to someone who had to come up like I did,” she said. “I use myself as an example. You can be in the program and the program can put you anywhere you want to be. All you have to do is stand strong, stand firm and be encouraged.”
Fields is now a program specialist with HABD, where her duties include mentoring to residents. She doesn’t need a textbook to find a strong example. She shares her story freely with her HABD residents. She wants them to know that anything is possible.
“’Can’t’ is not in my vocabulary and I don’t let them use the word can’t,” Fields said. “I’m doing this to be an inspiration. I’m doing this to let them know that a person can go from Section 8 to home ownership. I want to be an inspiration to the people who are coming up behind me and see that a real true life individual can succeed if they are persistent. You’re never too late to get what you want in life.”
Misha Hargrove: “As I reflected on my life’s journey, I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy.”
Misha Hargrove saw her life evolve from a never ending saga of disappointments to one of achievement and pride.
The journey was long and ended with Hargrove charting her own path to success and holding the keys to her own home through Family Self-Sufficiency program.
“As I reflected on my life’s journey, I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy, and I am hap¬py to report that all of my goals for the FSS program have been achieved,” Hargrove said.
For Hargrove, it all began when she took the right steps to remedy a series of wrong decisions.
“At the age of 24, I was hang¬ing out with the wrong crowd and made a slew of bad decisions that became a continuous night¬mare that I thought I would never wake up from,” she said. “Like typical kids, I felt I was invincible and I soon found out I was not as tough as I thought.”
Hargrove said her early actions created a stain on her record that made it difficult to get and keep a job. It was a consequence she never considered earlier.
“For many years my life appeared as if it would never get better, and the word ‘failure’ faced me daily,” she recalled.
Hargrove said things began to improve, but she still felt like she was in bond¬age. The blemish on her record from long ago con¬tinued as an impediment to her ultimate goals.
She had to take additional action. She worked and saved enough to pay the $3,000 restitution fee. Then the day finally came for Hargrove to make her case for a new start.
“As I stood before the judge that morning, he asked me one question, ‘What will this pardon do for you?’ Before I could respond, the tears began to flow down my face because I knew my response would determine the outcome of my pardon,” Hargrove recalled. “When I could regain composure, I told him that the pardon meant I could have the life back that I so foolishly took for granted, get a job, take care of my son and go back to school to become a nurse.”
The official pardon removed the one remaining obstacle in Hargrove’s path. Hargrove is a new homeowner at Tuxedo Terrace.
Leanita Johnson: “It feels good and the best is yet to come.”
Leanita Johnson is living her dream each morning she opens the door and begins work in her own corner of a downtown hair salon.
Johnson is self-employed as a cosmetologist. She’s also in the home-buying market — her second major goal.
Johnson’s journey towards self-sufficiency began in late 2011 when she joined the FSS program. Johnson moved tenaciously in the direction of fulfilling her goal to improve her quality of life.
She had three goals: to become gainfully employed, to establish a salon, and to attend homebuyer seminars in preparation for homeownership.
Johnson said her journey was not without challenges, but she remained focused. Johnson gives the same advice to others that she followed.
“Don’t give up. Keep pursuing the dream that God has given you,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the obstacles. What’s for me is for me and know that God is leading me to a better place.”
Johnson now has two jobs. In late 2015, she became a community center assistant at the Harris Homes Community Center.
“It feels good and the best is yet to come,” she said. “I’m looking forward to moving into my own home.”
Cecelia Williams: “I wanted something better for myself.”
Cecelia Williams has always maintained a job as a bus driver, but a series of circumstances necessitated a move into public housing and a need for some public assistance. While living at HABD, Williams learned about the FSS program and decided to enroll.
Determined to meet her goals, Williams at one point balanced two jobs as a school bus driver and charter bus operator.
“I literally was pushing it but through all of it I didn’t complain because I wanted something better for myself,” said the mother of two. “I passed that on to my girls. I would tell them that sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices and do things you don’t like.”
Williams attended the FSS workshops and listened intently to the tips given.
“I was always looking for ways to advance. I was always looking for ways to do better,” she said. “I enjoyed the project because it taught me a lot. The only thing that FSS requires of you is to apply yourself if you really want it.”
Williams eventually earned a promotion as a school bus dispatcher. When a home was available for rent in the new Tuxedo Terrace, Williams and her family were financially ready. The houses weren’t even fully constructed before Williams laid her claim.
“I came by here and I claimed this house,” she said, laughing as she recalled the experience. “Now I have a house. If I work and I keep the same hard work up, I can keep me and my family in this house.”
When they moved in, Williams’ daughters even named the house – “Gracie.”
Her long-term goal includes purchasing Gracie and making her claim permanent. Williams credits FSS with laying the foundation for the success she and her family now enjoy.
Williams may not attend Thursday’s graduation ceremony. She has after-school bus duty.
“It has given me character. It has developed me in my growth and it has taught me a lot,” she said. “When you start out with nothing and you are able to build something, it’s humbling. It’s beautiful.”