Taking a Journey She Couldn't Dream of as a Child

Heather Rivas and her familyGrowing up, Heather Rivas never heard the words familiar to so many kids:  you can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard.

She lived in public housing with her mother until she was 11 and then became a ward of the state, passed from family members to foster homes until she was 18.  At 21, she and her two children started to receive public housing assistance.

"I couldn't see that my life wasn't going anywhere," she said, "I was continuing the cycle."

When the staff at her Home Forward apartment community approached her about joining a program that would help her set goals and take charge of her life, she was skeptical.  "I agreed because I wanted to show them it wouldn't work," she said.

But it did.  This August, Heather and her family moved out of public housing into a home they own.  She became the first graduate of the site-based family self-sufficiency program Home Forward runs at New Columbia.  The program helps residents set life goals, attain the skills necessary to achieve them, and strive for independence from public assistance.

Heather took her journey in steps.  She first worked on a goal to improve her credit.  Having done that, she set out to buy a car so that she could get to a steady job without fail.  "When I bought that car, I had a feeling like I'd never had before," she said, "It was something I owned, that I'd done by myself.  I was determined to make payments on time."

Heather applied the same focus to her job, concentrating on being the best employee she could be.  She married her boyfriend and added him to her lease, so that her children would see her in a loving, committed relationship, following the rules in her public housing program.

When she paid off her car loan, she set an even bigger goal -- buying a home.  By this time, she was an eager student, absorbing all of the counseling and support she received from Home Forward staff and others who lent a hand.  "There were so many people who helped me.  I had complete strangers believing in me and telling me I could do big things, things I couldn't even imagine.  It was very inspirational."

Along the way, nothing mattered more to Heather than being a good role model for her three children.  "I tell them they can do anything they set a goal and work hard for," she said, "I want them to be proud of what we have and know they can achieve what I did, and more."