This story was originally published in our Dreams of Hope commemorative book for our An Evening of Hope Gala, A Million Dreams in 2018. Stay tuned for an update from Valerie and others at our 30th Year Anniversary Gala this October!

Valerie Aguilar is an honor student, a member of her high school scholarship club, Bible club and marine biology club, and will attend the University of California-Santa Barbara next fall in her quest to become an environmental engineer.

Sounds like the perfect setup for a perfect life – something Valerie herself would not disagree with. But getting to this point wasn’t easy. Homeless for two years, Valerie and her mom took temporary shelter wherever they could find it – with friends, family members, anyone who would take them in. Having the time or space to do simple tasks such as studying became major challenges.

Salvation came in the form of the Downey View Apartments, a state-of-the-art affordable apartment community in the heart of this Los Angeles County city. Developed by National Community Renaissance (National CORE), one of the nation’s largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing, Downey View is designed to help very low-income families rebuild their lives and eventually move from dependency to prosperity.

In Valerie’s case, she and her mom not only are able to make ends meet but can live close to school and work.

“Moving here has made my life so much easier,” Valerie says “Everything is so much. I can finally experience high school the way my friends do. It just made my life perfect; I think. It made me really, really happy.”

Maurice Patterson, community manager at Downey View, calls Valerie “superkid.” She’s too modest to agree, crediting her mom with being the family superstar.

“My mom is a wonderful person and does everything for me to be successful. She is always there for me, supporting me,” Valerie says.

Steve PonTell, President and Chief Executive Officer of National CORE, says Valerie and her mom illustrate how important affordable, quality shelter is in breaking the cycle of dependency.

“Unfortunate things happen to good people, but with a little bit of help, things can change, and new opportunities can – and do – present themselves,” PonTell says. “Valerie is going to go on to college and have great success in her life, and if I were to guess, she will find a way to contribute back to her community in a big way.”

Valerie herself bristles at the suggestion that residents of affordable housing somehow had it coming.

“It’s better not to judge a book by its cover,” she says. “I know a lot of people think that if someone doesn’t have enough money to pay their bills, that they messed up somewhere. That they didn’t take their education seriously or didn’t take their job seriously. In my situation, it wasn’t like that. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves in a financial rut.”

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