Being on the threshold of homelessness was far from the biggest obstacle Summer Vasquez would have to face on the long road to secure housing and financial independence.
Vasquez, now a resident manager with Hillcrest Transitional Housing, has been instrumental helping the area’s poor get the assistance and build the expertise necessary to build solid financial foundations – 44 families passed through the program in 2013 tying the record set the previous year.
But three years ago, she was trying to put her life back together after having lost custody of her son Wyatt Waters when he tested positive for controlled substances.
She’d completed rehab and been reunited with her son – then 17 months old – when she learned a home she shared in Independence with a friend might not be available to her anymore. Vasquez was being tested one more time.
This time, however, she’d do it differently. She’d ask for help.
Vasquez reached out to staff at the Hillcrest Transitional Housing – a volunteer-driven, AmeriCorps-run organization honored this week at the Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service. The Hillcrest Thrift Shop in Lee’s Summit – which supports the program alongside the other locations in the Kansas City area – hosted the event.
With the help of the program personnel honored Tuesday, Vasquez completed a 12-week curriculum designed to build basic independence skills like saving money and debt management.
Vasquez said the hardest part was not limiting her discretionary spending or paying down her bills, but just being willing to let someone else help and bring her to a higher standard.
“For someone to have me be accountable, that was very hard for me,” she said. In the past, people were likely to write Vasquez off as unreliable and undependable, qualities that went unchecked before she completed the program.
“Before, I never had to be honest with anyone,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said the staff didn’t only furnish the expertise necessary for her to gain the practical skills needed to live on her own, they gave her the confidence to move forth.
These days, Vasquez is focused on getting others the help they badly need; so far 12 families have completed the programs between the Hillcrest Transitional Housing locations in Independence and Lee’s Summit.
After two years as the program’s resident manager, four years sober and almost as many keeping up the hectic day-to-day of a single mother, she said people are having a new conversation about her.
“They tell me I’m responsible and that I’m accountable,” she said. “People rely on me, I’ve never had that.”
The Hillcrest Transitional Housing program was one of many programs the Corporation for National and Community Service highlighted across the country as part of Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service. Nearly 2,000 mayors representing about one-third of the U.S. population gathered at events held nationwide Tuesday to honor the contributions of community volunteers working with service organizations like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and others.
Mayors Don Reimal of Indendence, Carson Ross of Blue Springs and Randy Rhoads of Lee’s Summit participated in Tuesday’s event.
In 2013, the Hillcrest Transitional Housing program:
• Provided 14,000 nights of rest for residents in the program. • Perved 45,000 meals. • Helped residents pay off 96,000 old bills. • Adopted 97 families for Christmas which, 11 more than last year. • Counted on 20,000 total hours of volunteer service.