Celebrating change, MMC employees help boys enrolled in the La Buena Vida Youth Leadership Foundation program acclimate to their new homes. Photo by Joe Snell.
La Buena Vida Boys Adjust to Apartment Life
BY JOE SNELL
Read the original article on ramblernewspapers.com
Ezequiel Lopez stood over a boiling pot of arroz con leche as his roommates, Omar Ferretiz and Alejandro Perez, watched nervously nearby. The boys were cooking one of the first meals inside their new apartment after moving from their La Buena Vida home a week earlier.
Ezequiel, a junior at MacArthur High School, is one of seven boys in the La Buena Vida Youth Leadership Foundation, an organization founded in 2010 to help disadvantaged youth in North Texas. In November 2015 through a grant by the HUD Home Program, the boys were placed into an Irving home; however, the program was required to move out of the house after only a year because the HUD qualifications limited a number of the program’s options. This past December, the program moved into apartments in Irving.
“(The La Buena Vida program) went to get funding for a house through government channels and ended up with the HUD Home Program, which was not, as we find out now, the right match for the mission.” La Buena Vida Chairman David Pfaff said.
LIMITATIONS OF HUD HOME PROGRAM
In January of 2015, La Buena Vida broke ground on the home, and the group hosted their official ribbon cutting ceremony in November. Issues started to arise when Pfaff began combing their 20 year contract and noted that in six months the program would be required to fill the home with ten boys.
“The main thing with the grant was it was required that we have ten kids in the house at all times, which would qualify as 90 percent occupancy of the house,” said Joy Goodrum, Executive Director of the program. “If we only have eight kids who need help, that’s all we can do.”
Another qualification required getting a signature from the student’s parents regarding how the parents’ filed their taxes. In physically abusive and abandonment situations, these signatures were not practical for homeless students to obtain.
“The HUD qualifications also included having to get proof of complete financial independence from their parents,” Goodrum said. “Some of the [parents] are claiming the kids on their taxes. If the [parents] are claiming kids on the taxes who aren’t taking care of them, it doesn’t matter. HUD funding would still say the [kids] don’t qualify.”
La Buena Vida also set a series of rules for the boys to follow in order to live in the house, including no drinking and drugs as well as working part time. The organization needs the ability to drop students from the program who choose to continually violate those rules; an ability was not afforded under the HUD home program.
“You’ve got to follow rules,” Pfaff said. “If you don’t follow the rules, you can’t be in the program. [If kids drink] alcohol, miss curfews, or don’t go to school, we have to have the ability also to [remove them from the] program. HUD home makes you sign leases and contracts, so kicking someone out of a HUD program is not easy. There’s a lot of regulations that didn’t match what we’re trying to do.”
Pfaff, along with the La Buena Vida board, the City of Irving, and the HUD program, brainstormed about the program’s options and settled on moving the boys into apartments. The change to apartments, Pfaff said, aligns more with the mission of the organization to help the boys graduate from high school.
“With the apartment model, we can scale up and down,” Pfaff said. “We can look at adding females [to the program] now too, because they’re not living in the same home with a male.”
Channon Thompson, a student in the program, initially missed the house.
“I have friends all up and down the street,” Thompson said.
His apartment mate, LaQuon Williams, agreed.
“I got accustomed to the area,” Williams said.
Since the move, however, their opinions changed. Case manager Ben Williams, who was previously assigned to the boys while they were living in the home and has followed them into their new apartments, said once the boys saw the apartments they became excited.
“They just took it and said ok,” Williams said. “They’re used to changes like this. They were more excited once they saw the apartments, because to them, it felt more like something that is theirs and it’s their own.”
Williams shuffled through a bunch of unloaded boxes in early December hoping to organize at least one of the two apartments during moving day.
“Yesterday was the first day I was able to touch this spot, because I was more of the focal person to get all of the kids and all of the guys to the [apartments],” Williams said.
While at the home, Williams worked as a case manager and lived in the home. His role was to mentor the boys and provide structure through weekly group sessions and processing paperwork to bring in new homeless students. Now because the house is gone, his role has changed, and he will have to look for a full time job while still working part time with the program.
“They allow me to still have a room here and still keep monitoring the guys to make sure they get up,” Williams said. “We do our group session and make sure they maintain these apartments in decent order.”
Williams stressed the importance of a continual presence and leadership while the boys progress through high school. Many of these boys come from unstable environments, and the adjustment to living in a new space with a strict set of rules can be daunting.
“The biggest challenge they face is the adjustment of facing stableness,” Williams said. “Going from surviving to learning how to live, because when they come here, they’ve already got their walls up.”
A VERY MMC CORP CHRISTMAS
On the Monday before Christmas the boys were welcomed at the new apartments by gifts provided by MMC Group, a staffing and recruiting company based in Irving.
“[MMC Group President Cameron Mitchell] came out to the apartments on Monday,” Goodrum said. “He and about five of his employees brought all of these truckloads of stuff. One of the apartments is packed with huge bags of stuff for the guys.”
Mitchell first began the conversation with Goodrum in the summer of 2016 to figure out how his company could help. From there, MMC employees were encouraged to contribute monetarily as well as their time buying toys that were on the boys’ Christmas wish lists.
“We came and looked at the original house,” Mitchell said. “Myself and our office manager, we drove over and met with Joy. I wanted to look at the house and really understand their needs, understand them a little bit more. We took pictures of their wish lists and so we all huddled up, we divided in teams at our office. We just made sure they got everything and then some.”
Two days before Christmas, the boys got an opportunity to open their gifts, some of which were mini fridges for each of their bedrooms, tennis rackets, tablets, and clothes.
“MMC are being just angels, true angels to come and provide these boys Christmas, because the boys don’t have families to be bringing them presents and giving them things,” Goodrum said. “They’re each other’s family right now.”