Hope: the expectation of a positive future. This phrase was repeated several times at the grand opening of the Residences at West Columbus on Wednesday morning.
Breaking down in tears, Tracey Reyes, 20, a former foster teen, spoke about what West Columbus meant to her.
"I feel at peace, finally," she said. "I'm finally away from gangs, drugs and living in unsafe motels every night. I am home."
The newly built orange and white apartment complexes still smell like fresh paint. They are a new affordable housing development that features 56 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for families along with 20 one-bedroom apartments for transition age youth.
Reyes now occupies one of the 20 apartments and was very excited when she moved in April 8.
"It is fully furnished and it has a big bathroom, at least for me it seems big," she said.
Only the youth transitional apartments are furnished with a couch, dining room table, two lamps, a bed and a dresser with mirror. These apartments were furnished because most former foster youth do not have money to purchase household items.
Randy Coats, executive director of Golden Empire Affordable Housing Inc., felt a sense of relief to be able to stand in front of a completed project.
"To see everything just come together gives me that exciting-tickling feeling that sends those little spines of energy up and down my back," Coats said.
After six years of planning and budgeting, Coats turned the $12 million dream into reality with help of local collaborating groups, such as the County of Kern Mental Health Department.
It was with the Kern Mental Health Department that Reyes sought help and was able to find housing.
"I was struggling but I knew I needed to get help and the Mental Health Department really helped me find my way in life again and because of them, I am here right now, with a stable roof over my head," Reyes said.
Standing by Reyes's side, Brenda Story, 49, supervisor of transitional age youth services in the mental health department, said she felt very proud and happy to see the apartments finished.
"This is the beginning for many former foster teens and it's very rewarding to see that the community is here to support them and it's even more exciting to see Tracey so happy," Story said.
Now that Reyes has a home, she hopes to return to school and get a part-time or full-time job. She dropped out of Ridgeview High School at age 17.
With a smile on her face, she described her future goals.
"I always wanted to be a medical assistant so I want to go back to school and study what I have always wanted and then hopefully find a job in a hospital," she said. "I am no longer fearful of the unknown."