Tufa laughs when she describes how much her five-year-old son likes the Skyline Advantage Center at her affordable housing community. “All the time he wants to come down here,” she says, gesturing to the computer lab and service center on the first floor of the apartment building. “He comes to Homework Help [a CommonBond Advantage Center program] with his cousins, and says ‘no momma, I stay here. I wanna learn, I stay here.'”
Tufa feels the same way about her home in America. She has lived at Skyline Tower, a CommonBond Truly Affordable housing community in St. Paul, for seven years now. She loves the community. When she goes to the store or to her job as a care assistant at an assisted living home, she leaves her son with a neighbor. When she has questions or needs career guidance, she takes the elevator downstairs to talk to the Advantage Center staff, who she knows by name. “It is so nice for me to be here.”
Fleeing from violence
For much of her life, Tufa didn’t have this support. Born in Ethiopia, she was forced by the political violence to flee to a refugee camp in Kenya. There, she and her family were stuck in temporary housing for over two years, waiting for a visa to move. When she was finally able to immigrate to Minnesota, she came without savings, family or friends and knew very little English. And in the confusion of living in a new country, she accidentally threw away her income tax form, getting into trouble with the government in the process. “They told me I would have to leave,” she remembers.
Panicked, she walked down to the Advantage Center downstairs. It was the start to a relationship that is helping her succeed to this day.
The help she needed
The on-site social worker and a bilingual aide helped her understand the forms she needed and worked with her to keep her home. The staff encouraged her to enroll in the Career Advantage program so she could find a job and wouldn’t have to depend on a government subsidy.
Staying and growing
With the tools she needed, Tufa started working. She took every training she could, from data-entry training to early childhood education for her young son. She learned how to use a computer to find jobs. Soon with the help of Career Advantage, Tufa got her first job at US Bank. Opportunities followed, and she is now working as a certified nursing assistant. She hopes to become a nurse. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without CommonBond,” Tufa says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any experience on how to live in this country.”
It has been a hard road, but like her son, she’s prepared to work to stay. “In America everyone lives the same,” she says of her new home. “Here, we all have freedom.”