You gave more than a home.

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My earliest memory is living in a tiny garage.

I was four. Not much older than some of the other kids you’ll meet tonight. My two parents, my four brothers and sisters…and me. We all squeezed in to a space that was probably not more than 500 square ft. 

It got so cold at night that we slept with winter coats on. Most of the clothes we had were either hand-me-downs from neighbors or passed on to us. We didn’t go out for meals or go to Disneyland or do anything like that. It didn’t even occur to us.

From the moment my parents came to this country, they worked hard, respected everyone and loved their family. They had all the ingredients it took to turn the American dream into reality. And yet, like so many others, my parents struggled while earning minimum wage. It wasn’t enough to just want it and work hard for a better life. 

I vividly remember the night my mom sat us all down and told us that she had found an apartment that our family could finally afford. I remember opening the front door and running through our new home, counting the bedrooms together—there were three—and two bathrooms. It might as well have been a castle.

It turns out that this apartment building— named Vanowen Gardens—was  owned by LA Family Housing and that this opportunity changed our family’s path forever. It was at Vanowen Gardens where I got my first book and developed my love for reading. It was at Vanowen Gardens where my mom felt safe enough to trust her neighbor with caring for my young brother so she could go back to work. My mom was able to walk two minutes to a bus stop that took her straight to her job. The location also allowed her to easily pick us up from school, walk to the grocery store, and for us to enjoy our neighborhood park. These things might sound simple, but they were anything but.

We went from surviving to stable. We went from focusing on how to stay warm at night to focusing on doing well in school. Our dreams began to turn in to plans.

This might sound crazy....

Can a three bedroom apartment really change the course of a family’s life?

Let my family’s story be the answer: yes. 

Having access to an apartment our family could afford allowed us room to dream bigger, to get an education, to get better jobs, to gain financial literacy and—God willing—to one day be homeowners.

My younger brother is on track to graduate from UC Davis. My oldest brother, a UCSB graduate, is serving in the United States Army. My two sisters and I graduated from UC Berkeley and are happily finding our way in the world. I enrolled at Harvard University to earn my Master’s in Public Health in the fall.

A home that a family can afford has the power to break the cycle of poverty and lift up beautiful people with beautiful dreams—people like my family and so many others like us.

It makes room for less worrying and more dreaming. It makes more room for dignity.

Most important to me is that an affordable home empowers women to earn a living and at the same time be present in their family’s lives. 

This is what Vanowen Gardens provided us.

An affordable home is the foundation, but it takes more. It takes a community. It takes you.