On June 10, 2000, a frightened twenty-three year old Zarthina Leary took her daughters, ages three years and seven months, and fled to the Shreveport Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) homeless shelter for victims of domestic violence.
A partner in the area continuum of care homeless coalition, HOPE for the Homeless, the shelter offered Zarthina and her children a safe haven to rest, to heal, to start again. They helped Zarthina get counseling for her daughter, who was troubled by the family violence she had witnessed.
"They helped us feel good about ourselves again and not feel scared," she said. The shelter also told her about resources that could help her.
With support and encouragement, her life began to change.
Three weeks later, she rented a small house, not the best, but safe and one she could almost afford. The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries, also members of the local homeless coalition, gave her vouchers for furniture and clothing. They had fled to the shelter with only the clothes on their backs.
A local church also helped her move and get settled. The Caddo Parish Schools' Homeless Children's program helped enroll her daughter Nashuan in the Head Start program.
Zarthina looked for job training opportunities and in August of 2000 began classes at Job Corps to be a certified nursing assistant. She quickly mastered the nursing assistant program and in November, 2000 began studying at the area vocational technical college to be a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Nursing was a lifelong dream.
The following spring, a HUD Section 8 voucher enabled Zarthina and her children to move into an apartment better suited for her young family. She worked twelve-hour shifts and attended nursing school full time. She took the bus, and "did whatever needed to be done. It was hard, but by the grace of God, we made it. It was not easy, but we made it."
Zarthina was a hard worker and a quick study. She completed the two-year LPN program in 18 months and did her clinicals and passed her state board exams while pregnant with twins.
In January, 2003 she began working in the nursery at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. A friend sold her a car with no money down so she could get to and from work.
In September of that year, she contacted the Shreveport Housing Authority to ask about their Family Self-Sufficiency program. After speaking with her, Housing Authority staff realized this bright, energetic, responsible young woman was ready for HUD's Section 8 Homeownership program.
The Shreveport Community Development Office enrolled her in homebuyer education classes at a local community-based nonprofit and a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency, Queensborough Neighborhood Association. She wasted no time completing the classes. A counselor with QNA told her about the city's homeownership program and referred her to local lenders.
On October 3, 2003, with her homebuyer education certificate in hand, she applied for a mortgage with BankCorps South and was pre-qualified. Several weeks later, she found a house in southwest Shreveport in a quiet neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac, a place with tree-lined streets, a big back yard for her children to play, and neighbors who look out for each other - the American Dream.
Using HOME Investment Partnership funds, the City gave her a $16,200 "soft second" loan to assist with down payment and closing costs. On December 27, 2003, Zarthina Leary closed on her new home and moved her family in to start the New Year. In three and a half years, she had gone from being homeless to homeowner.
Based on her full time wage of $10.30 an hour, her Section 8 voucher initially provided 44.5% of her monthly house note of $631. But Zarthina's career had blossomed, too. She began work for Dubuis Rehab, then moved to a private nursing agency with flexible hours that allowed her to continue to work full time and attend classes at Bossier Parish Community College. Next, she attended Northwestern School of Nursing to become a registered nurse.
By January, 2007, the Section 8 portion of her mortgage was down to only $47 a month. She said, "I can pay that" and gave up the subsidy altogether.
On March 26, she was hired by the Northwest Louisiana War Veterans Home in Bossier City, Louisiana, a beautiful new facility with a skilled care wing.
Since purchasing her home in 2003, her hourly wage has almost doubled. That will likely happen again. Working 12-hour shifts, Zarthina has only five classes and her clinicals left before she qualifies to be a registered nurse. She knows this is the profession she was meant to pursue. "I love helping people. I love my job. This is my calling," she says with a smile.
The world has changed a lot for Zarthina and her children since the day they ran in fear of their lives to an unknown future. Independent, fulfilled, loved, safe, they live in a home of which they are justifiably proud. It shows in the bright eyes and happy faces of her children and the look of modest confidence in her eyes.
"God opened up many doors for me," she insists when complimented on her tenacity to make a better life for her family. One of those doors was her marriage recently to a high school sweetheart, adding the kind of love and stability to her family they so richly deserve.
As for the Section 8 homeownership program, community development resources and the community and faith-based nonprofits that helped her, she says, "It's a great program. If you are willing to help yourself, there are people who are willing to help and work with you."
|Content Archived: July 18, 2011