Success stories

Carmen
Carmen will never forget the day she received her first letter from E&ES Housing Case Manager Antoinette Robinson-Randall.

“It was the nicest letter I have ever read in my life,” Carmen says. “I can’t remember the exact wording, but the ‘I look forward to meeting you’ part sticks out.”

Depressed and desperate to make a better life for her two children, Carmen considered the letter an invitation for change and called that day to set up an appointment with Antoinette. Now, less than a year later, Carmen is attending daily classes to earn her GED, working weekends at a local department store, and relishing the opportunity to be a role model to her 17-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

For the first time since she can remember, she says, she’s happy with her choices.

“I’m proud of myself,” Carmen explains. “It’s overwhelming how good I feel; I can’t even begin to explain it.”

The letter she read that day was part of Antoinette’s recruitment effort for the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) FamilyWorks program, an E&ES-administered case management service that empowers CHA residents to become more self-sufficient.

Although Carmen was working at the time, she was trying to raise two children by herself without a high school degree or the self-esteem to transform her life.

“I never completed anything before, so I didn’t think I was capable of changing my situation,” she says.

This, Antoinette explains, is exactly why she works in the social service field.

“I want struggling families to feel they’re somebody,” she says. “Just because things got off track somewhere doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish anything.”

Before moving to her current three-bedroom apartment, Carmen was living with a family friend and sharing one bedroom with her teenage son and young daughter. She considers this the bottom of a downward spiral that began with her decision to drop out of high school.  

Carmen says CHA housing gave her the chance to start over and provide a stable environment where she could resolve her struggles with self-esteem and depression.

“[Antoinette and the FamilyWorks program] encouraged me to believe in myself,” Carmen explains.

When Carmen expressed regret about not finishing high school, Antoinette suggested she begin a program at the Association House that offered free GED preparation services. Carmen has thrived in the program, winning awards for perfect attendance and good grades.

“I’m proud of her,” says Antoinette. “But the main thing is that she’s proud of herself.”

Carmen acknowledges that she’s the agent of her own future but credits Antoinette and the CHA for making the process easier.

“All the times I’ve called [E&ES], they’re always there to answer—and CHA’s housing is such a blessing,” she says.

Carmen’s positive experience has also motivated her to consider ways she can give back.

“I never considered it before I met Antoinette, but I’m thinking about a career in case management,” she says. “I want to help people the way she helped me.” 

Whatever career she chooses, Carmen is determined to be one thing: a role model for her children, who she considers her “true pride.” 

“I’m keeping on a positive path,” she says. “I’m not going to let anything get in my way.”

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