JB Brown Fund February 2018- Coming Full Circle

Rarely does someone come into contact with Angelique who is not inspired by her life story.  Angelique is the definition of resilience.  She came to California as a refugee from Rwanda in 1999, leaving behind a past of incredible sorrow–many of her family members were slain in the violent campaign of the Rwanda government on its own citizens.  Angelique and her husband were lucky to be alive. Despite such personal trauma, they were both hopeful they could start a new life in Sacramento.

The USA Properties Fund community of Silverado Creek has been Angelique’s home now for seven years.  Here, she has continued to work on healing from her past-here at Silverado Creek she has found a supportive community to raise her two sons, ages 11 and 8, and to do what most busy moms do in Sacramento-run between her kids’ soccer games, work, and school.  Angelique is very grateful to be this busy and knows without the JB Brown Academic Scholarship Program, life could have been much different.

The JB Brown scholarships Angelique received have propelled her from earning her AA at Sacramento City College to ultimately transferring to Sacramento State University and earning a four year degree.  At Sacramento State, Angelique majored in Occupational Health and Safety with an emphasis in Aging (Gerontology). This course of study fit Angelique’s caring and empathic character well since she is naturally a giver and is fulfilled by helping others. Angelique opted to do an internship with LifeSTEPS for her gerontology class and this experience has proven to be valuable for her career.  Angelique graduated from Sacramento State in 2016 and immediately applied with LifeSTEPS for a Director of Social Services position serving older adults in affordable housing.

Angelique has been an amazing addition to the LifeSTEPS team and in just a few months on the job she has already had a lasting positive impact for the senior residents she serves. Recently one of Angelique’s properties was featured on Good Day Sacramento for an innovative rock painting class facilitated by one of her residents.  As the camera operator panned the room capturing the residents proudly showing off their painted rocks, Angelique was there in the background–feeling thankful that she was there at all and knowing she had come full circle.

AMCAL Communities Partner Report January 2018

 Pure Joy!

Holidays should be a time of joy and celebration, especially for children. Unfortunately, for many children living in low-income families, the holidays represent a time that highlights what they don’t have and what their parents are unable to give them. LifeSTEPS staff from the LA Valley region wanted to bring some holiday joy to the children who are active participants of LifeSTEPS’ After-School Programs (ASP) so they reached out to their local chapter of Toys for Tots.
The ASP children at AMCAL’s Villas Del Lago were some of the fortunate ones chosen to receive gifts. Many of the ASP kids are in the age called “tweens”–somewhere between childhood and becoming a teenager. These kids are not the little ones at home anymore, so often they are left off Santa’s list (especially when Santa has only enough gifts for some in the family). Knowing this made it even more important for LifeSTEPS ASP staff to secure the donated gifts for their children.
Every child in Villas Del Lago’s ASP was given a gift of their own to unwrap. Some of the children literally shouted out with pure joy as the wrappings came off, “Thank you!” “This is awesome!” Other children forgot for a while that they were not little kids anymore, “I’m going to play with these now!” All the kids thanked their LifeSTEPS staff and the children’s parents expressed gratitude as well, commenting on how impactful LifeSTEPS After-School Program has been for their children. It was truly a special celebration for everyone involved.



New Adventures For Montecito Couple

Three years ago Felix and Ofelia got off a plane at LAX airport. The married couple arrived with only a few large suitcases and a small amount of cash. They had traveled 22 hours, a distance of over 4,000 miles from Armenia to California–ready to begin a new life in America–a new life at the young age of 70 and 71 years old!
This new adventure had begun when the couple won a lottery to obtain a green card–a once in a lifetime opportunity to start completely over, and a chance to later bring their grown sons and their families to America too.

In many ways Felix’s and Ofelia’s maturity in years was hidden by the lines in their faces and their gray hair–all just a mask to cover what they really were: two wide-eyed teenagers trying to figure out their adult world for the first time!  Everything was new to them and exciting, but on the other hand, very frightening as well. It wasn’t long before Ofelia missed her sons and her grandchildren terribly. She missed everything that was familiar about her home in Armenia. Plus navigating Los Angeles was a nightmare–especially difficult when you have no financial resources and don’t speak the language. Everyday Ofelia cried a little and wondered why they had come to this strange new country.

Felix was having a hard time adjusting too. The loneliness was really hard for him since he is naturally very social and outgoing. When Ani, LifeSTEPS’ Director of Social Services at Montecito Terrance, first met the couple she could see right away how lost Felix and Ofelia were. The couple’s love for each other was very clear, but they also needed friends and a support system to help them adjust to their new life in the US. Ani began to personally invite the couple to LifeSTEPS activities such as bingo, Zumba class, and potluck socials.  She introduced them to other residents who had also emigrated from Armenia, some of whom were attending college classes and taking ESL classes to learn English. Ofelia and Felix slowly began to make friends and soon Ofelia came to Ani asking for help to enroll in college classes too.  Felix followed soon after and it wasn’t long before the two of them were studying their English together.

Felix and Ofelia have made tremendous progress this last year. Their early culture shock and homesickness has given way to their natural curiosity for adventure and new experiences.  Ani has noticed a remarkable change in their perspectives. They were once again like two kids–their love for meeting new people, hearing new music, trying new food and especially for each other was stronger than ever!  By spring of 2017, they came to Ani and asked for help once more–this time to become American citizens. After the initial referral from Ani, they did all the work themselves.


On December 21, 2017 Ofelia and Felix got an early Christmas gift. Felix took his oath of US citizenship joining Ofelia who had taken hers the month before. They both achieved what many people half their age never do, and they did it together as a strong team.  When they come to see Ani now, their eyes sparkle with the excitement of their new lives.  Ani says, “I’m so happy for this sweet couple!  I’m excited to see how they will continue to grow and build a life here and I am hopeful they will be able to see their family again, perhaps bring them here to stay and live a wonderful life into their golden “old” years.”


With the Partnership for HOPE Fund and LIfeSTEPS Support, Diana has a Bright Future Ahead!

The fog often rises silently from the damp grape vineyards and orchards of California’s Central Valley. It hovers along the ground, covering the four-lane road headed east and west through the small town of Parlier. On days when the Valley fog lingers as thick as “pea-soup” over the roadway it offers a good excuse for Diana to stay home–curl up with a good book and a steaming cup of tea – instead, Diana never lets the fog or any other obstacle get in her way of attending her college classes. Diana knows, without a doubt, her future is dependent on attending college and she knows a college education is her key to a better life. But she wasn’t always so certain.
Diana grew up watching her parents work hard in low-wage agricultural jobs– struggling with barely enough income to get by. From a young age, Diana wanted more for herself. It was her dream to become a teacher, but like the foggy road, sometimes her path was difficult to see. After graduation, Diana enrolled in Reedley College, a small community college a short drive from her hometown. She basically stepped out in faith–not knowing how she would cover the cost of going to college. Diana was on her own to pay for everything from books to the transportation to get to school.  Her first year, she worked two part-time jobs while trying to find time to study for her classes. It was not uncommon for Diana to have little time for anything other than working and attending college. Eventually the stress of juggling was overwhelming–her grades sometimes suffered and it felt like her dream was slipping away.
Fortunately, Diana discovered from Leni, her LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services, that as a resident of AMCAL’s Villa Escondido she was eligible for a
Partnership for HOPE academic scholarship. Leni encouraged Diana to apply and met with Diana several times to help her gather the needed documents and complete her application. Diana was beyond thrilled when she was awarded $700 for her college expenses! This was the extra boost and motivation that Diana needed to push her over the finish line at Reedley College and on to her next step to becoming a teacher.
Thanks to Leni for taking the initiative to reach out to Diana and to the Partnership for HOPE Fund, Diana ended her first two years at the community college in a much stronger position than when she had started. It means a great deal to Diana to know that she has the support of LifeSTEPS and the Partnership for HOPE donors who believe in her enough to invest in her future. Diana shared, “When I received the Partnership for HOPE Scholarship, it was an example that my dreams do come true!”
In January 2018, Diana transferred to Fresno State University as an Elementary Education major and received her second Partnership for HOPE scholarship award — this time for $2,800 for the spring 2018 semester. This award, coupled with a part-time job working in an After-School Program with the Boy Scouts of America, has allowed Diana to feel much more confident about achieving her dream of earning a college degree and a teaching credential.
So now, even on thick Valley fog mornings, Diana can see her bright future ahead! 

Out of Ashes, Comes Hope


The wildfire reached Sweet T’s restaurant in Santa Rosa on October 9th. It was gone in a matter of minutes–reduced to hot metal and ash. And so was Nina’s only source of income. 

Nina, 30, is a single mom living with her nine-year-old daughter, Kaylee, in the USA Properties Fund community of Terracina at Santa Rosa. Nina had been a server at Sweet T’s restaurant. She applied for unemployment immediately, but it would not come soon enough to pay her November rent.

Nina is not a stranger to hard times or hard work.The daughter of immigrants from Thailand, her father passed away when Nina was just nine years old, leaving her mother to work 2 or 3 jobs at a time to provide the basics for her children. Nina herself entered the workforce at 15 years old to contribute to the family’s income.Though it was necessary, it greatly troubled Nina’s mother. She had hoped for an easier life for her daughter, but Nina’s life has been far from easy. She came to Terracina at Santa Rosa after several years of “couch surfing” among friends. Having an affordable apartment at Terracina at Santa Rosa was a huge break for Nina. It gave her the stability she needed to work and pursue her dream of a college education.

Nina has always believed that hard work and education will be her key to financial security for herself and her daughter. She attended Santa Rosa Community College and slowly chipped away at the classes she needed to earn her degree. In 2016 Nina achieved an Associate of Science degree with honors and promptly entered the competitive Dental Hygienist program at Santa Rosa Community College as the next step on her path forward. The Dental Hygienist program is rigorous and expensive–with student loans and her income from her restaurant job, Nina was barely holding it all together. And then wildfire came to Santa Rosa–bringing devastation and destruction and putting everything she had worked for in jeopardy.

Nancy, LifeSTEPS’ Director of Social Services at Terracina Santa Rosa, heard about Nina’s situation and connected Nina with the local St. Vincent De Paul agency. They agreed to pay both Nina’s November and her December rent. LifeSTEPS was also able to help Nina with other financial needs through a special LifeSTEPS’ Fire Victims Fund and Nancy encouraged Nina to apply for a college scholarship through USA Properties’ JB Brown Fund. Nina will soon be awarded a JB Brown scholarship of $3,500 toward her education. What an emotional rollercoaster the last few months have been for Nina!

For someone who has gotten through life on grit and the strength of her own willpower, Nina is truly overwhelmed with gratitude that so many people have reached out to help her. Perhaps, all Nina’s early years of struggle prepared her for this latest crisis. Her strong will to persevere through difficult times continues to fuel her desire to achieve her goals, but now she carries with her a renewed hope that nothing (not even a raging wildfire) will stop her from creating a better life for her family. 2018 is now looking to be her best year ever!

“Continuing on my path of education shows that even through the tough times, I am still able to achieve my goals. It shows my mother that she did not hinder my dreams by asking me to work at a young age. It shows my daughter what perseverance looks like.” Nina, November 2017

October Story of the Month – A Lifelong Commitment

Watching the health of your lifelong partner decline is a heartbreaking experience. After a lifetime together, nothing really prepares you for the suffering you will witness or the exhaustion you will endure in becoming your spouse’s primary caregiver.

Guillermo, a resident at AMCAL’s Hollenbeck Terrace, is a devoted husband who would do anything to help his wife who struggles with mobility as her health is rapidly declining.

Guillermo often felt ill prepared to help his wife and very isolated in his own life as he was all consumed with caring for his wife. 

At Guillermo’s age, many of his friends faced their own health crisis and his grown children were busy with their own families. This made Guillermo reluctant to bother them with his troubles, but he also knew he wouldn’t be able to continue to care for his wife alone. His own health was affected and though Guillermo didn’t think of himself as depressed, it was getting more difficult by the day to get a good night’s sleep and have enough energy to get through his daily tasks. This is the state he was in when Guillermo met Venessa, LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services, at Hollenbeck Terrace.

Venessa immediately recognized that Guillermo needed some extra support for his own emotional health and also support to find resources that would help his wife with her physical care. Venessa set up weekly check-ins to see how he was doing and to help him connect with local resources. Venessa worked with Guillermo to secure an in-home health aide for his wife.  Since the doctor had previously dismissed this care option, Venessa advocated on the couple’s behalf for the doctor to reconsider. Together they worked on the process to get his wife the in-home care she needed from In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and eventually their efforts paid off.

Guillermo no longer feels all alone in caring for his wife. The IHSS support has truly been a lifesaver for both Guillermo and his wife. Guillermo is now able to attend LifeSTEPS classes and social events while he knows his wife is well taken care of.  Having more social interaction with others in his community has lifted Guillermo’s depression as well.

He is so grateful LifeSTEPS services were there for him–right within his own home community. It doesn’t change how very hard it is to watch your loved one’s health decline, but it makes it a little easier to bear knowing they can both continue to live together as a couple, sharing a home as they have done for over 50 years.