Free Minds Inspires Capital Studios Resident to Return to College

June 8, 2016 | Posted in Education |

It was a flyer on Kyle Fuqua’s door at Capital Studios that piqued his interest in our Free Minds program. The 31-year-old personal trainer started but never finished college due to serious missteps that landed him in legal trouble and a struggle with substance abuse. Free Minds, a free two semester college humanities course run in partnership with UT and ACC, presented just the right opportunity for Kyle to return to school. Almost 100 people applied and Kyle was accepted into the class of 20 students. His life has already changed as a result.

“There’s a magic in that class,” Kyle said about Free Minds. “We have the best professors and a glue-like bond between the classmates. We all want to see each other succeed.”

Kyle is part of Free Minds’ 10th graduating class and will join his classmates as they walk across the stage in their cap and gown this month. Each of the graduates will earn six college credits at ACC. For many students, the road to Free Minds isn’t an easy one. Free Minds is intended for adults living on low to moderate incomes who have faced barriers to education.

Kyle’s challenges began when he was 18. He committed a burglary and a robbery and was sent to prison for three years. Shortly after being released, he started using drugs. Kyle felt his life spiraling out of control and turned to
a supportive group of family and friends to help him get sober. That was almost seven years ago. Now, Kyle is living
a stable, healthy life as a resident at Capital Studios in downtown Austin and spends his days motivating others to achieve their fitness and nutrition goals.

He works at two different gyms in the Austin area. The can-do attitude Kyle employs at his job is also evident in the Free Minds classroom.

“Kyle takes his work seriously and has high standards for himself,” Vive Griffith, the director of Free Minds, said. “In many ways, he’s lifted the standards for the entire class.”

Reading Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and Plato’s The Republic ultimately helped open Kyle’s mind to new ways of thinking. Building on the enthusiasm and support from Free Minds, Kyle said he plans to enroll at ACC in the fall and is considering different degree options. He has set big goals for himself and is determined to successfully finish college so he can pursue a career he loves.

“I’m not content with just earning a paycheck,” Kyle said. “I want to do something that I’m passionate about, something that is challenging.”

For more information about Free Minds, please visit

Insure Central Texas Helps Mom Access Cancer Treatment

April 18, 2016 | Posted in Financial Stability, Health |

When the Mohsin family arrived in the United States, they were prepared for a new way of life. What they weren’t prepared for was Sadaf’s breast cancer diagnosis. Despite the shocking news, Sadaf was able to immediately
undergo treatment because her family had signed up for affordable health insurance through our Insure Central Texas program.

“My treatment is completed because of this service,” Sadaf said.

Sadaf and her husband, Sajjad, visited one of our Insure Central Texas sites a handful of times and were guided through the entire health insurance enrollment process by our committed volunteers. The family chose an insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act marketplace that made sense for them and got help finding the right doctor and a hospital close to home.

“It’s been a very good and personal relationship,” Sajjad said. “The way [Insure Central Texas] has helped us is amazing.”

We recently wrapped up our third enrollment season. In total, we’ve signed up over 16,000 individuals for healthcare coverage since 2014.

Our trained and certified volunteers help families, like the Mohsins, enroll in health insurance, and also assist people with using their insurance, troubleshooting problems between providers and insurance companies and, ultimately, accessing the health care they need.

Sadaf, Sajjad and their two children moved to Austin last August. They decided to uproot from their home country of Pakistan primarily out of concern for their children’s safety and because they wanted their kids to have more educational opportunities.

As academics and IT developers, Sadaf and Sajjad decided Austin was the best place to relocate. The couple has started their own software development company and they are actively looking for work projects. One project that has taken on a particularly personal mission is a video game Sadaf developed for children with cancer.
The path ahead for the Mohsins isn’t necessarily an easy one—they are still looking for full-time employment—but the family feels thankful for the supportive community and resources available here in Austin. This includes Insure Central Texas, as well as other services like free tax preparation offered by Foundation Communities.

“All of this has given us a peace of mind,” Sajjad said.

To learn more about Insure Central Texas, visit

Iraqi Family Finds Comforts of Home at Sierra Ridge

December 2, 2015 | Posted in Housing |

It is hard to imagine having to say goodbye to the friends, neighbors and home you love. That is exactly what the Gailani family were forced to do when they left Iraq in 2011 as refugees. The Gailanis are part of our Children’s Home Initiative (CHI), an intensive support program for extremely low-income and formerly homeless families, and they live at our Sierra Ridge community in South Austin.

Salwan found a job as a dishwasher at a hotel and was making only slightly above minimum wage. The family struggled to adjust to their new life in the United States – everything, including the language, was unfamiliar and the cost of living was high.

Salwan and his wife, Sawsan, eventually learned about Foundation Communities through local refugee advocates and friends. Now that the Gailanis have a safe, stable place to call home and access to an on-site case manager and other support services, the entire family has made great strides.

Through the CHI program, the Gailanis participated in ­financial counseling and have been able to open a savings account and purchase their fi­rst car. Salwan, who still works seven days a week at a hotel, said this has relieved some of the family’s fi­nancial strain. The family has also relied on their case manager to assist them with paying bills online, ­filling out important documents and making doctor’s appointments.

“Our case manager helps with everything,” Sawsan said.

Two of the Gailani children attend nearby St. Elmo Elementary School and come to our Learning Center to do their homework and play outside with their friends. All of the children are excelling at learning English and flourishing in school.

The Gailanis’ progress aligns with the overarching success of our CHI families. Of the 45 families that graduated from the 18-month program this year, 87% fulfilled a ­financial literacy component and 98% of the children in the program improved or maintained their academic performance.

Despite being uprooted from their country, the Gailani family is remarkably optimistic and hopeful. Salwan and Sawsan welcomed their fourth child, Saife, just a few months ago, and they envision a bright future for him and their family as a whole. Salwan plans to buy a home one day, Sawsan is actively working towards earning her GED and the kids all have dreams of their own.

For more information about our CHI program, please click here.


Homestead Oaks: A Place for Families to Call Their Own

September 29, 2015 | Posted in Housing |

Almost all of us in Austin know someone who needs an affordable place to live. The people who call Foundation Communities home work in our favorite restaurants, play music downtown, teach our kids and build our houses. They are our colleagues, friends and family members. We want to be there for them. That’s why we continue to grow.

By the end of this year, we will welcome home another 140 families to our beautiful new Homestead Oaks community at Brodie and Slaughter, close to great schools and lots of job opportunities. Most of the families that move into Homestead will earn between $20,000 to $50,000 and they’ll pay, on average, $750 in rent.

Fourteen of the 140 apartments at Homestead will be reserved for extremely low-income, formerly homeless families with young children who will pay further reduced rents and have access to intensive case management services right where they live.

We look forward to providing our newest residents with the housing + support they need to succeed. At Homestead, this includes an on-site learning center for our after-school and summer learning programs, financial stability programs to help parents manage a tight budget, and health programs like Zumba and nutrition classes.

Homestead will be the perfect place for our residents to dream big. With 29 acres of land and 500 oak trees, it is sure to be our most picturesque community to date.

We like to imagine our students at the Stevenson Family Learning Center (named in honor of our beloved supporters John and Lois Stevenson) running and playing in the wide, open spaces. There will be a playground, tree swings, and forts. In the future, we also hope to scatter walking trails
throughout the property.

Our affordable housing communities are always built to the highest green standards, and Homestead is no exception. It will be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold or Platinum and each apartment will have its own small solar installation. We are committed to keeping our residents’ utility bills low and our environmental footprint small.

Homestead would not have been possible without the aordable housing bonds that Austin voters approved in 2013, which we leveraged to secure critical state funds. We are thankful for the city’s support. We are also incredibly grateful to all of our generous donors who fund the on-site education, financial stability, and health programs that
truly transform people’s lives.

Foundation Communities is home to more than 5,000 people – including over 800 formerly homeless children – and counting. We can’t wait to open our doors at Homestead later this year and give 140 more families a beautiful, safe, affordable place they can call their own.

Resident Overcomes Challenges In Supportive Community

August 24, 2015 | Posted in Health |

Michael Greene spent two decades living a fast-paced life that included working in the entertainment industry and traveling all over the world. He had struggled with hyper anxiety ever since he was a teenager and ultimately turned to alcohol as a way to cope and to fuel his chaotic existence.

“My anxiety didn’t allow me to be present,” he said. “Alcohol became my normalcy, and I was like that for 25 years.”

Eventually, Michael’s drinking overtook his life and the rest of his priorities fell away. He struggled to keep jobs and soon became homeless.

Change for Michael came when he enrolled himself in the Salvation Army’s adult rehabilitation program. After graduating from the program, Michael learned about Foundation Communities. He moved into an apartment of his own at Garden Terrace, one of our communities for single adults, and has been with us for the last six years.

“I see my time at Foundation Communities as completely progressive and forward,” Michael said. “It’s my ascent to my ultimate goal, which is self-sufficiency.”

Michael has come a long way since he fi­rst arrived at Garden Terrace. His anxiety used to prevent him from coming out of his room but now he happily walks the halls and chats with his neighbors and our staff. Michael has added structure back into his life by helping to manage the food pantries at three of our communities, and he’s hoping to begin a second job in the near future.

He is also committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a mostly plant-based diet and riding his bicycle around town to alleviate stress. “I’ve learned that pacing yourself is very important,” he said.

Michael is one of many residents who has benefited from our partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Because of a $2 million federal grant we received from SAMHSA in 2006, we were able to add social work staff at our communities for single adults, like Garden Terrace, and work closely with local healthcare providers to give our residents access to critical services.

Dr. William Kelly, a professor of sociology at UT Austin, studied the implementation of the SAMHSA grant at our communities and found that our residents benefited tremendously. Michael was one of the residents Dr. Kelly spoke with while doing his research.

“Mr. Greene is one example of how, given the right services and the right people providing them, a life can change in extraordinary ways,” Dr. Kelly said.

To learn more about our health programs, please visit

Our BIG News and Future Plans

August 3, 2015 | Posted in Housing |

July ended on an extremely high note. We just found out that we won nearly $15 million in tax credits from the state to build Cardinal Point, a new affordable housing community in the Four Points area with good schools and plenty of job opportunities. We are very happy about this news and can’t wait to welcome 120 low-income families home to Cardinal Point in 2017!

This is an important moment in our organization’s history. Cardinal Point is one of SIX (yes, SIX) new communities we have in the pipeline. Our waiting lists for housing have never been longer and the need for affordable housing in Austin is at an all-time high. We are excited to be growing.

Each of our future communities will provide more than just a roof over people’s heads. At Cardinal Point, for example, families will have access to our free education, financial stability and health programs right where they live. There will be a Community Learning Center with after-school and summer learning programs, ESL classes, and fitness classes like Zumba and yoga.

With the construction of Cardinal Point and our other new communities, we expect to welcome home 1,000 new residents by the end of 2017.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we’re planning over the next few years:

Homestead Apartments (pictured above) – Homestead Apartments is slated to open at the end of this year. It is located near Brodie and Slaughter and will be home 140 families.

Lakeline Station Apartments – Lakeline Station is scheduled to open in late 2016. It is located at 620 and 183 and will be home to 128 families.

Live Oak Trails – Live Oak Trails is scheduled to open in late 2016. It is located next to our Southwest Trails community in Oak Hill and will be home to 58 families.

Bluebonnet Studios – Bluebonnet Studios is scheduled to open in late 2016. It is located at Bluebonnet and South Lamar and will be home to 107 single adults, including low-wage workers, formerly homeless individuals, veterans, seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Garden Terrace Phase 3 – Garden Terrace Phase 3 is an expansion of our Garden Terrace community located on William Cannon and is expected to be complete by 2017. The expansion will be home to 20 single adults, very similar to the future residents at Bluebonnet.

Cardinal Point – Cardinal Point is slated to open in 2017. It will be located in the Four Points area, close to the intersection of River Place Boulevard and Four Points Drive, and will be home to 140 families.

Stay tuned for updates!

Free Minds Helps Mom Achieve College Dreams

June 16, 2015 | Posted in Education |

Crystal Luna dropped out of high school when she was 16 to take care of her new son, Mikey. She returned to school nearly ten years later because she wanted to set a good example for him and change her life.

As a single parent, she worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite the challenging circumstances, Crystal wanted Mikey to see and understand the value of a college education.

“I want him to be much further in his life at the age of 30 than I am now,” Crystal said.

Crystal will turn 30 this summer and Mikey is in 7th grade. Once Crystal set her mind to returning to school,she earned her GED. She also decided to get a jump-start on her college career by applying to our Free Minds program.

Free Minds is a free two-semester college humanities course for adults living on low to moderate incomes. The rigorous program is run in partnership with UT Austin and Austin Community College (ACC). After being accepted into the program, Crystal has spent the last year studying literature, American history, philosophy and writing.

Her favorite assignment so far has been reading Plato’s The Republic. Crystal overcame her apprehension about the dense classic early on in the course and proved to herself that she could, in fact, succeed in Free Minds. Besides
exploring new literary worlds, Crystal said Free Minds has taught her how to successfully balance her life’s competing priorities: raising her son, working full-time and completing her education.

One of the reasons Crystal was able to enroll in the program and commit to its demanding schedule is because Mikey can come with her. While Crystal is hard at work in discussion groups, Mikey participates in a Creative Action class. Creative Action is one of our nonprofit partners and the class is free for children of Free Minds’ students.

“Being able to bring Mikey made it so much easier as a single parent,” Crystal said. “He loves his class with Creative Action too.”

This month, Crystal and her fellow Free Minds students will graduate with six college credits. Crystal has already applied for financial aid at ACC and plans to enroll for the summer and fall semesters. She will be pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Music Business, Performance and Technology in order to live out her dream of working full-time in the music industry.

Newly minted with a degree, Crystal envisions many more doors opening in her and her son’s future. “Free Minds prepared me for what comes next,” she said. “The program helped open those doors.” To learn more about our Free Minds program, please visit

Coaching Families to a Stronger Financial Future

April 6, 2015 | Posted in Financial Stability |

Miguel Stoupignan is an unwavering optimist and problem solver. As one of our seasoned financial coaches, Miguel works one-on-one with Foundation Communities residents and Austin community members to strengthen their financial stability. Miguel meets with clients who are struggling to make ends meet. They come to him extremely concerned about their financial future.

Miguel shares with clients the advice his father gave to him as a child. “There is no problem you can’t solve – it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “Make an action plan.”

Creating an action plan is where Miguel can help. Like our other volunteer financial coaches, Miguel meets regularly with his clients to understand their financial situations. Then, they work collaboratively to figure out how to manage tight budgets, reduce debt, improve credit, and set achievable short-term and long-term goals. Understandably, discussing financial decisions is stressful for many people.

“To me, talking about money is emotional, just like any other problem in life,” Miguel said. “The clients want to open their hearts to you.”

When first meeting with clients, Miguel said his main objective is to establish a meaningful, personal connection. This approach, along with his positive outlook, is what makes Miguel such an effective financial coach. He gets to know his clients in order to help them implement the right solutions and, ultimately, change their lives.

Becoming a financial coach was a natural fit for Miguel. After several years in the restaurant business, he now works as a consultant for companies of all sizes. Miguel stays busy with his consulting business and his family, but he has been a dedicated Foundation Communities volunteer for the last three years.

In addition to volunteering as a financial coach, Miguel also serves as a small business coach, credit counselor and tax preparer. He carves out time weekly to volunteer, which he said is as beneficial for him as it is for the folks he serves.

“You are doing something to solve a problem, which is satisfying, and you are making friends,” Miguel said. Miguel has no plans on slowing down any time soon and jokes that he won’t retire until 2060. He also encourages others to find the volunteer opportunity with Foundation Communities that best fits them.

“It’s going to complete you,” he said. “You learn a lot, not only because of the issue at hand, but because of the clients.”

Veteran Finds Home Sweet Home at Capital Studios

January 14, 2015 | Posted in Housing | Keywords:

Lisa Nave and twelve other formerly homeless veterans walked into a completed Capital Studios last month for the first time. It was a momentous occasion. They took a tour of their new community together and signed their leases. For Lisa, that day meant finally putting all of her belongings in one place and moving into a stable, safe home of her very own.

“I feel rested, and I am relaxed,” Lisa said. “I haven’t felt this way ever.”

There were times in Lisa’s life when she would barricade her doors and windows because she didn’t feel safe. She spent sleepless nights in the bed of her truck, on friends’ couches and, most recently, in a homeless shelter.

Lisa left the U.S. Army Reserve reluctantly after 19 years of service. She was 35 at the time and struggling with the repercussions of the abuse, neglect and harassment she faced both as a child and as an adult.

Lisa had enlisted in the Army to escape her dysfunctional childhood home and the military became her way of life. When mental health issues worsened in her early 30s, she lost the only career she had ever known.

Five months after leaving the military, Lisa had depleted her savings. Her past haunted her and her future seemed bleak.

Lisa and her teenage daughter moved from place to place, trying to find a home where they belonged.

“I didn’t have a place where I felt welcome, even with my own family,” Lisa said.

Ultimately, Lisa was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and her doctor urged her to get counseling. Lisa made the decision to move to Austin to get the treatment she needed and to be close to her daughter, who now lives in San Antonio. She found Austin Clubhouse, a Foundation Communities partner, as a critical source of support.

At Capital Studios, Lisa said she is enjoying the simple pleasures that are often taken for granted: a warm shower, a satisfying meal, a bed to rest her head. She is also looking to her future, which she said is filled with healing and opportunities.

“I’ve always lived in haunted houses,” Lisa said. “Now I can have a home sweet home.”

Tax Prep Leads Resident to Fresh New Start

January 5, 2015 | Posted in Financial Stability | Keywords: ,

When Joyce Guagliardo first visited our Community Tax Centers a few years ago, she lived in less than ideal circumstances.

Joyce was in and out of the hospital and for a while she was homeless, sleeping on other people’s couches or living in her car. Years of serious physical and mental health issues made it impossible for her to maintain a full-time job.

Joyce’s family had always prided themselves on their work ethic.

“I had never relied on anyone for anything,” she said.

It was hard for her to give up work and remain optimistic about the future given her health challenges.

Since being introduced to Foundation Communities, Joyce said that she finally feels like she’s moving forward again.

Most significantly, Joyce and her husband Lawrence moved into Buckingham Place Duplexes, one of our family communities in south Austin. As residents, the Guagliardos have participated in many of our financial stability programs, learning how to cut their utility bills in half and taking our money management classes.

Earlier this year, Joyce returned to our Community Tax Centers and met with long-time volunteer Sid Stuewe. She cried when she found out she was going to meet with Sid because she felt relieved to be in such capable hands.

Every time she visits the Community Tax Centers, Joyce said our volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable. “I’m not in the dark about anything,” she said. Joyce said she is incredibly grateful to Foundation Communities and to all of the dedicated volunteers she has met over the years.

We rely on over 2,000 volunteers annually to carry out the programs that serve our residents and neighbors. In 2014, volunteers at our Community Tax Centers prepared more than 20,000 tax returns, resulting in over $36 million in refunds for hard-working, local families. We hope to assist even more families during the 2015 tax season and we need you! As a Community Tax Centers volunteer, you’ll truly make a difference for folks like Joyce.

For more information about volunteering with our Community Tax Centers, contact Jackie Blair at or 512-610-7377.