"Movin' on up to the East Side"

 

 

The history of Bakersfield is filled with stories of families starting out from scratch, determined to make a life for themselves in this big ol’ valley. Through hard work, perseverance, and with the help of others, they manage not only to survive but to thrive. The story of Ramon and Amanda Oros and their young family is no different. Both Ramon and Amanda grew up in the social service system; he as a foster kid and Amanda in a household dependant on welfare. When they got married and started their family they had no intention of ever using governmental assistance to help get by. However, in spite of working, the cost of living was not something they could afford, so they soon found themselves applying for the Section 8 program at the Housing Authority of the County of Kern (HACK) with the hope of moving out of their ramshackle apartment. Shortly after being accepted into the Section 8 program they were able to move into a clean, safe apartment.

Like all new Section 8 applicants, Ramon and Amanda were required to attend an orientation put on by HACK to introduce them to the program and all of the collateral services offered. One of those services is the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which is a voluntary program created by HUD to help people move out of low income public housing and off Section 8 and into their own homes by becoming self-sufficient. Like most new applicants sitting in this orientation, the news of the Family Self-Sufficiency program was lost in the excitement of receiving their Section 8 Vouchers. Fast forward three years and not much had changed for Ramon and Amanda; he was still unemployed, no life goals, no savings, and they were still in Section 8 housing. Then Amanda met Rose. Rose is the Service Coordinator that told Amanda about the Family Self-Sufficiency program.  Amanda was intrigued yet hesitant: they could get help finding work and completing her GED, develop a five-year plan, which included life goals, obtain an FSS Escrow savings account (interest-bearing savings account) with the amount deposited based on receiving an increase in earned income, and all they had to do was go to classes… it seemed too good to be true. Amanda and Ramon discussed the possibilities. It was an opportunity to change their lives and provide a better life for their children; a life they had never known growing up. But it was also scary: what if something happened once they were off Section 8 housing? It was then that they both realized that Section 8, once viewed by both as a temporary safety net, had now become a crutch… they were afraid to move forward without it.

After meeting with Rose a few more times, learning more about how the program worked, and what was required of them to succeed, Ramon and Amanda enrolled in the program. Shortly after enrolling, they began moving through the pipeline of classes: resume writing, financial/credit counseling, budget counseling, interview skills training, GED completion, and many others. Ramon then landed a job at Ikea, Amanda completed her GED, and then moved onto vocational school to pursue her dream of becoming a cosmetologist. Each month the amount in their escrow savings account grew and they were learning how to become self-sufficient and developing the skills they needed to succeed outside Section 8 and without government assistance.

Today you will see that Ramon and Amanda completed the program a year early, completing it in four years instead of five, they are off Section 8 and all other government aid, and they just closed escrow on their new home in the Northeast. When asked what the greatest challenge was that they faced while in the program, Ramon responded “Courage and confidence. Getting the courage to take on a 30-year mortgage and the commitment it would require, and the confidence in my ability to keep my job and provide for my family.” Ramon credits the Family Self-Sufficiency program for giving him the courage and confidence he needed, as well as the “financial attitude adjustment” they needed to budget and plan for any unexpected financial situations they may encounter. Ramon and Amanda both describe their new life as liberating and say they feel accomplished; both words that they would never have used to describe their life just four short years ago.

Sitting on the couch in their living room, Ramon and Amanda expressed gratitude for Rose and the Housing Authority of the County of Kern for all of their help, but it goes beyond that. Ramon is thankful to Ikea for providing him an opportunity not only to work, but to work in a company that provides opportunities for advancement and professional growth.  

When enrolling in the Family Self Sufficiency program, prospective participants are asked where they see themselves in five years. Now that they have completed the program and achieved all of their goals, we asked Ramon and Amanda where they see themselves in their next five years? Ramon sees himself “working at Ikea in a leadership position, “and Amanda “as a successful business owner with my own salon.” Considering how much they have accomplished in such a short amount of time, there is no doubt they will achieve the new goals they have set for themselves.