For his entire life, it always has been just Sebastian and his mom, Carmen. As he prepares for his third year at Notre Dame University, Sebastian is reflecting on all the sacrifices his mom has made that have led to this pivotal point in his life. He is thankful for the supportive affordable housing community where he grew up. It provided stability and free onsite programs and services that enabled his mom to achieve her dream of starting a business and provide for their needs so Sebastian could focus on his education.
Living at a National CORE affordable housing community, Sebastian was able to participate in programs offered by the Hope through Housing Foundation. The afterschool program gave him a safe place to go after school, providing homework assistance, enrichment activities, and adult supervision during the critical hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. and gave his mom peace of mind, knowing that Sebastian was safe.
It has always been Carmen’s deepest wish that Sebastian receive a great education and graduate from college. Living in the Arbor Villas affordable apartment community in an affluent neighborhood of Yorba Linda gave Sebastian access to well-funded local schools and other community resources. Even though she sometimes had to take on extra work to cover expenses, Carmen was adamant that Sebastian’s only focus should be school. This commitment to academics led Sebastian to excel in school and receive a full scholarship to Notre Dame University.
“You can’t really think about what it would have been like if you didn’t have [those resources], because of how essential and vital it was to my mom in order to keep going,” Sebastian said.
Recently, Sebastian has been starting to think about what kept him going through all his hard years of study. For so long, it was the milestone of making it to college and leveraging his education to get a job that would provide his family with a chance at true economic mobility. In 2019, Hope through Housing shared that Sebastian’s against-all-odds story had a triumphant ending, with Sebastian preparing to fly to Indiana to attend one of the top universities in the country. At the same time, Carmen was on the verge of opening her own daycare center, fulfilling a goal she had always dreamed about and allowing her to offer other single parents the relief, through childcare, that had been provided to her. Although the video ends there, at 6 minutes and 3 seconds, Sebastian and Carmen’s story embodies years of struggle and triumph.
Like so many other families, Sebastian and his mom saw their story take another turn as the pandemic threatened to derail the dreams they had worked towards for so long. When the pandemic hit and its dangers became widely known, Sebastian returned home, feeling very stressed – his mom was at high risk for Covid because of her high blood pressure, and he worried every day about what would happen if she caught the virus. Carmen was forced to close her daycare, which was manageable because of their savings but meant added stress as they had to get by on little to no income. Like many National CORE residents, Sebastian and his mom were affected disproportionately by the pandemic – as an essential worker who was at high risk, his mom was out of work; their healthcare coverage was not sufficient, making it even riskier if they got Covid; and they did not have a big house to quarantine far away from each other. Sebastian saw his schoolwork impacted as he began to struggle to focus and that in turn caused his mom to worry – their care and concern for each other and their shared future caused them both to spiral.
Throughout it all, they had their National CORE apartment home, they had a supportive community and Hope through Housing’s services, and they had each other. Sebastian was able to maintain his good grades, and Carmen was eventually able to reopen her daycare. Before the pandemic, they were both unaware of just how much they needed time to breathe, and Carmen was able to do that during the pandemic. Sebastian kept studying hard, but when classes ended for the summer, he finally had the mental break he had needed for so long. With some time to think about his life, he had some heartfelt observations.
“I started to realize just how much I had to push through stuff my whole life to have been able to succeed,” Sebastian said. “There’s always going to be someone who has more than you, there’s always going to be someone whose road to get somewhere didn’t involve as much hardship as it did for you, but it’s almost like I was able to overcome it. And even though I’m definitely seeing the consequences of how far I had to stretch myself, I’m starting to see that it wasn’t for nothing.”
Sebastian has come to realize that what he has been striving for his whole life was comfort and security – for him and his mom. Soon, with a degree in computer science, he will be able to get a job that he said could pay more in one month than some of his family members have ever made. And after first achieving some financial security, he hopes to use his education to promote social good and to give back to communities like the one that supported him.
“Living here [at Arbor Villas] doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed success, but it’s something that if you don’t have, it’s really hard to go somewhere,” Sebastian said. “The reality is, in families like mine, your parents usually have to make a sacrifice. It honestly just made the sacrifices not go in vain. The property and the organization itself enabled everything that my mom was doing, everything that I was doing, to actually mean something.”