Finding a New Sense of Purpose Through Work

September 30, 2016 | Posted in Housing |

After years of struggling with substance abuse and homelessness, Sharon Ford finally feels like her life is on the upswing. She moved into our Skyline Terrace community in 2012 and since then has maintained sobriety, developed deep friendships and gone back to work part-time through our supported employment program. Four days a week, Sharon delivers healthy food to our on-site food pantries.

“I look forward to getting up every day and going to work,” Sharon said. “My job keeps me busy and I love it because I get to meet different people.”

Sharon said her life was complete turmoil before she moved into Skyline Terrace. She saw her mother suffer from alcoholism when she was a child and her ex-husband introduced her to the drug that would derail her life. Sharon ultimately experienced homelessness on three separate occasions and her chronic health issues, including damaged discs in her neck and back, worsened.

She eventually got connected with a case manager at Caritas, one of our community partners, and that’s when she found a home with us. Having a stable place to live has allowed Sharon to make progress in treating her depression and anxiety, and build lasting relationships with friends and family. One of her favorite visitors is her four-year-old granddaughter who she loves taking to church and to fun activities around town.

Sharon is one of 15 residents that currently participate in our supported employment program. The program was created three years ago for residents who have unstable incomes, are unemployed or underemployed, and are in jeopardy of losing their housing because they’re having a hard time paying rent.

Our residents are employed in various roles. For example, some serve as drivers delivering food from the Central Texas Food Bank to our food pantries, as peer recovery coaches providing support to fellow residents through on-site recovery groups, or as community engagement specialists helping to gather resident input on health activities and community outings. The program was created in partnership with Austin Clubhouse and a grant from the City of Austin.

We’ve found that meaningful work empowers our residents not only to earn an income and stay housed, but to gain a sense of purpose, form friendships and improve their mental health and well-being. This is certainly true for Sharon, who is healthier and happier than ever.

“She takes such pride in her work, making sure that residents have fresh and healthy food to eat every week,” said Sofia Barbato, Supportive Services Program Supervisor. “The joy that she brings with her to work is infectious—she brightens our residents’ day every time she delivers food to the pantry.”

Supporting Dreams in the St. Elmo Neighborhood

July 14, 2016 | Posted in Education |

Jacky Quezada is working hard to shape her own destiny. The 19-year-old sophomore at Texas State University is the first in her family to attend college and serves as a role model for her younger brother and sister. Jackie and her family moved to our Sierra Ridge community in the St. Elmo neighborhood the summer before her 5th grade year, and her mom and siblings still live there. Finding Foundation Communities changed the lives of everyone in the family by offering an affordable, stable home. Jacky credits the move with helping all of them envision a brighter future.

“It’s an incredibly positive environment, with a lot of resources,” Jacky said about living at Sierra Ridge. “It defi­nitely changed the way we look at things.”

Jacky’s parents split up when she was young and her mother had to work long hours as a nanny and cleaning houses to support her three children. When her mother was at work, Jacky took care of her younger siblings – feeding them, bathing them and putting them to bed. She had to grow up very fast.

When they moved to Sierra Ridge, Jacky and her siblings discovered a support system at the on-site Community Learning Center where they attended our after-school and summer learning programs. Jacky said going to the Learning Center made it easier for her to make friends at St. Elmo Elementary since about half of the school’s students live at our Sierra Ridge or Sierra Vista communities. She also discovered that the Learning Center staff‑ provided encouragement and assistance whenever she needed it, including when she was applying for college.

“The staff‑ helped me through the whole college application process, like proofreading my essays, and making sure I was on track,” Jacky said.

Thinking of others and wanting the best for them is second nature to Jacky, who served as a Learning Center volunteer and continues to mentor her siblings. Jacky’s brother will be a freshman at Texas A&M in the fall and her sister is not too far behind.

The support and guidance Jacky received at Sierra Ridge exemplifies­ the importance of our e‑fforts in the St. Elmo neighborhood. With Sierra Ridge and Sierra Vista directly across the street from each other, we have had the unique opportunity to help uplift an entire neighborhood of parents and students. Our goal is to provide families with a pipeline of support from pre-k to college and beyond.

For now, Jacky is soaking up her time as an independent ­ first-generation college student. She is majoring in business with a minor in fashion merchandising and hopes to attend graduate school and, one day, be her own boss. She said others who will be the ­first in their families to go to college should remember to set goals and stay positive.

“Don’t doubt yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and keep working hard,” Jacky said.

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 www.FreeMindsAustin.org.

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 www.InsureCentralTX.org.

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 //foundcom.org/health-programs/.

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 www.freemindsaustin.org.

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.”