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Three Habitat partner families connected through Career Pathways

by Beth Reed | March 25, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.
Jack Porter, Garland County Habitat for Humanity's board president, welcomes the Yamga family, Marie, Romeo and two daughters Joyce and Angela, on the porch of their new home on Cones Road during their home dedication on March 3, 2018. (The Sentinel-Record/Rebekah Hedges)

Three partner families who recently received homes through Garland County Habitat for Humanity, or are close to their dedication date, have an interesting connection through National Park College.

According to Cindy Wagstaff, executive director for Garland County Habitat for Humanity, families must complete a minimum of 350 volunteer, or "sweat equity," hours to build their homes, and the homes of others, as well as attend classes on financial literacy and home maintenance.

"Habitat sells the house at cost," Wagstaff said. "The homeowner is extended a 20 year, 0 percent interest mortgage, which is held, locally, at Garland County Habitat for Humanity. Those mortgage payments are then recycled back into building more houses. It is significant that the money stays in Garland County and continues to contribute to the community."

The building process gives Habitat the opportunity to develop a close relationship with the families, she said, adding that "each one has their own amazing story and it is a privilege to become part of their lives."

The Gonzalez family, the Yamga family and the Spencer family can now add homeownership to their achievements. Other than Habitat, these three families are connected through the NPC Career Pathways program.

"Career Pathways has made a huge impact on my journey," said Nadia Gonzalez, who is now the intake coordinator for the same program which helped her get her degree. "It has helped me change my mindset on what was possible for my life. I am thankful for both Career Pathways and Habitat for Humanity for investing their time with me and inspiring me to give back to my community."

Gonzalez completed her associates degree through Career Pathways in 2010. At the time, she was a single mom and the assistance the program provided gave her the opportunity to get her education. She now uses her experience to help others getting their degrees through the grant program.

Students have to complete a career readiness certificate and a Career Pathways class which teaches students about resumes, cover letters, and mock interviews because it is an employability program, Gonzalez said.

"We use education as a tool, but our main focus is to make students employable and get them out in the work field," she said.

Gonzalez said she found out her family was selected for a home on Christmas in 2016. This home holds more significance for her and her son than just a place to lay their heads.

"When I was in school here as a single mom with my son, I moved several places," she said. "I've had to move him a lot where my daughter, we've only lived in the one place. For me it makes me feel like I've actually been successful to tell him we're not going to move again. It's been a big thing for me to tell him 'this is going to be your space, I'm not going to move you again.'"

According to Gonzalez, families can start working on completing their volunteers hours and paying their escrow as soon as they find out they have been selected to receive a home from Habitat. Her experience has been positive throughout the yearlong building process, and she advocates for Habitat to her Career Pathways students.

"I've definitely advocated for (Habitat) as much as I could, trying to get any of the students that were coming in. I would tell them about it," she said. "Because a lot of people hear about it but they really don't know the process so I have definitely been telling students just go to the meeting and hear them out. Go and get an application... all they can say is 'no.' It doesn't hurt to at least apply, and I try to encourage them to apply. I'll continue to do that."

For the Yamga family, the Career Pathways program and their home through Habitat were paths to a new life in the United States.

The two came to Arkansas from Cameroon.

"This is probably my third year (in Career Pathways)," Romeo Yamga said. "I started with my GED. When I first came here my English was not good. I just knew how to say 'good morning.' I saw (Lataschya Harris, Career Pathways Director) and I told her I want to go to school."

Romeo Yamga said he did not have transportation to get to the NPC campus, and chose to attend the NPC Adult Education Center at 155 East Grand Ave. to complete his GED.

"I took one year for the (pre-requisites) for nursing, and I started last semester," he said. "This is my second semester in nursing."

Romeo and Marie Yamga are both nursing students, and their two children are their motivation to complete school and were the motivation for them to apply for a home through Habitat.

"When you first come here, you need to know where you will stay, where you will put your head down," he said. "That's the big concern. I started seeing things for Habitat for Humanity. When I went to the library I saw that again, and now I started to get interested in finding some more information.

"In the apartment, it was just a place to sleep and there was no place for my babies to play. That was my motivation for the Habitat house. I have two girls, 4 and 2. When I go over to some people's house, they have a yard and place to play. That was my main concern to have the house."

For Marie Yamga, being able to provide a good life for their children is a priority.

"When you have kids, you can't go to school because you maybe don't have money to pay the daycare, money to do everything," she said. "I can say Career Pathways was the motivation for us to go to school together. If this was not the case, maybe one person could go and the other would stay home. I can say it's a blessing."

The new house is also a blessing, she said.

"The community came to build the house for us... they helped to build the house very fast," she said. "You meet new people every day and I don't know how to explain it, but we are very glad to meet new people every day. When they come to help you, it's a good feeling."

Wagstaff said the Yamgas have been in America just a few years and are extremely hard working.

"They were moved up in the construction schedule due to the unexpected death of another partner family," she said. "Even though they were both in college and working full time, they didn't hesitate. They immediately stepped up and worked as often as they could to earn their sweat equity hours. It wasn't convenient for them and it was hard work, but they have so much to be proud of."

Traci Spencer, a certified dietary manager at Levi Hospital and graduate of the Career Pathways program, was also told at Christmas in 2016 that she would receive a home through Habitat.

According to Wagstaff, Spencer will receive the keys to her home in a few weeks and has "endeared herself to the construction crew with her cooking, it is her thoughtfulness and dedication that has earned her their respect.

"As one of the last in her group to receive a house, she has taken the opportunity to not only work on her fellow partner families' houses, but even presented her future neighbors with housewarming gifts at their home dedications," Wagstaff said.

Spencer said she's appreciative of the help she has received from other families and the community who have come together to build her home.

"There was a group that came out and painted all the walls and the doors, and then a group of my coworkers came out and volunteered," she said. "I think we had about 60 hours when we got done."

When she started in Career Pathways, she said she was about halfway through her college credits.

"When I started I was halfway finished with my credits, but the resources that they offer are really good," Spencer said. "The ones I actually used were the books. They did offer childcare, but I did a lot of online classes. And then working with our resume. I hadn't done a resume in years, but I like that they gave us direction."

Much like Career Pathways, Spencer said Habitat offers the support needed to achieve one's goals, in this case homeownership.

"We have advocates through Habitat," she said. "If we need anything, questions answered or a voice for us, we contact them."

Wagstaff said this unique circumstance of having three partner families connected through the organization is a special thing to see.

"It's been fun to watch these three families bond during the construction of their homes," Wagstaff said. "It is terribly satisfying knowing these families will forever be connected."

Local on 03/25/2018

Print Headline: Three Habitat partner families connected through Career Pathways


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