Fresh Start at Fresh Start

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Things weren't going the way Mildred Mayo had hoped or planned. Even with a degree from Portsmouth's I.C. Norcom High School, every job she'd gotten seemed headed straight for a dead-end job - flipping burgers in a fast-food restaurant, filling trays in a meatpacking plant, stocking shelves in a department store.

No wonder she told The Virginian Pilot she "wasn't happy with the jobs." All she knew was that, pure and simple, she didn't "want to do anything like" what she's done before. In her early 30's, she realized it was time, she explained, to get "a career goal" and a fresh start.

[Photo: Class of 2007 group picture]
Fresh Start class of 2007.

Ms. Mayo got her chance for a fresh start thanks to a letter from the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority. It invited her to join the Authority's Fresh Start, a component of a HUD-funded self-sufficiency program helping more than 300 public housing families to achieve financial independence.

Launched in 2004 by the Authority in partnership with Tidewater Community College, Fresh Start, is a small but intensive 12-week program designed to help participants acquire the skills they need to succeed in school, at work and, even, in life. It helps "clients think differently about themselves," explained the College's Mary Pat Liggio, "and the possibilities for the future."

It's certainly done that for Ms. Mayo. She's graduated from Fresh Start and is now pursuing a degree at Tidewater. Fresh Start, she told The Pilot, "made me believe that I can do anything."

And what's worked for her is working for others. To date, in fact, 34 women have completed the Fresh Start curriculum. At least eight, reported the College, have moved out of public housing since their graduation. One's become a certified cosmetologist, another received a certificate in electrical engineering from the Tidewater Builders Association. Still another is training to become a therapeutic counselor for children. And many, like Ms. Mayo, are attending college prep or occupational training classes at the College.

"The road to economic self-sufficiency can be rocky," said HUD Richmond's Bill Miles, "and I admire the grit and determination of these participants in stepping forward and, working with the Authority and the College, beginning to take control of their own lives. To our way of thinking, they're already successes."

HUD Family Self Sufficiency grants are awarded competitively to housing authorities to help their residents meet their educational, employment or homeownership goals. In fiscal year 2007 HUD competitively awarded a total of $12.6 million in Family Self Sufficiency grants to housing authorities in Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Danville, Fairfax, Franklin, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Waynesboro.

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Content Archived: September 09, 2009