As the lead maintenance technician at Cardinal Point Apartments, Jeremiah Balingene stays very busy making repairs, and getting apartments ready for new residents. Thirteen years ago, he was in their position, moving into a Foundation Communities apartment community and looking forward to a better life. His housing story doesn’t start there, but in central Africa.
in 2002 Jeremiah and his family lost their home in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo when a volcano started spewing ash and lava. They had already been surrounded by violence and death as the genocidal civil war in neighboring Rwanda had spilled into their city. The danger became too much. In 2006, the Balingene family fled to a refugee camp in the country of Tanzania. They were safe, but food was scarce. In 2010, Jeremiah and his family had an opportunity to legally emigrate to the United States through a US State Department program. Jeremiah said, “I chose to be part of American people. It looked like it was safe here.”
The Balingene family relocated to Central Texas because of the warm, “Congo-like” climate. As sponsored refugees, the seven-member family (at that time) had a three-bedroom apartment waiting for them in Foundation Communities’ Trails at Vintage Creek Apartments. To help them with the transition, their rent and utility bills were waived for about 13 months. Still, it wasn’t easy.
“There was a lot of struggle to find a job, then you find a job, but the job is not easy for you,” said Jeremiah. “In the refugee camp, if I needed to make money I could raise chickens. Where can I raise chickens here?” Jeremiah started working for a recycling company, sorting through trash for minimum wage. When the time came when they had to pay rent and utility bills, the family had very little money left over.
The culture shock from language barriers, confusing procedures, and foods much different from the fufu and cassava leaves they were used to had the family thinking about going back to Africa. Jeremiah says it was support from Foundation Communities that helped them find a comfort zone. The property manager at that time, Mandy Lewis, helped them with things like paperwork and shopping. The most valuable resource was the Learning Center where the children could be safe and supervised after school and receive help with their homework. Jeremiah also took advantage of the ESL classes there. “Vintage Creek, they have a program for English. I was going there every single day to learn how to speak American English, and listening too. Listening was a real struggle,” said Jeremiah.
Jeremiah’s English improved. So did his computer skills and the family’s financial situation. In 2012 he started working as a porter at Vintage Creek. While on duty he followed the community’s maintenance workers learning what they knew, and very quickly Jeremiah became one of the maintenance techs. Two years later, he was promoted to lead maintenance tech at FC’s Spring Terrace, and last year, he became the lead at Cardinal Point. Each promotion came with a pay raise. “When we start, we may not be a professional, but they keep teaching us. Then, send us to school, give us a lot of training, and I love it,” said Jeremiah.
By 2017, the Balingene family had grown to 10 members, and outgrown their three-bedroom apartment. Thanks to years of affordable housing, steady employment and good money management, they were able to purchase a new five-bedroom home, which Jeremiah says is their investment in their future. He says it would not have happened without support from Foundation Communities. “This company is like a family…like a community,” said Jeremiah. “(Foundation Communities) has a very big heart. Take care for everybody. No restriction. Please keep going that way to help more people.”
Jeremiah is doing his part to help others. He pastors a local church, and he has started an organization to sponsor and assist Africans who want to come to America to escape danger and extreme poverty.
Foundation Communities is proud to welcome home families like the Balingenes, and help them find success in Central Texas. Immigrants have helped us as well by accepting positions we have struggled to fill. Currently, more than half of our maintenance staff is comprised of immigrants who keep our apartment communities clean and in working order.