Empowering People: Access to Opportunities

Antionette Buckley’s life changed in February 2017.

For years she had struggled with an abusive relationship and bouts of homelessness.

The Swayze Court Apartments resident said prior to getting news that she would be one of the tenants at the newly developed and renovated 36-unit apartment complex that she really didn’t win in life.

“I never get what I want. I filled out the application but I kept saying, ‘I ain’t gon get it, I ain’t gon get it,’” Buckley said.

She filled out her application in October and in January she was told she had a new place to live. By February Buckley called Swayze Court home.

Buckley along with the other residents at Swayze Court, a Communities First, Inc. development, have been given the opportunity to live in a complex that focuses on community partnerships, resources and programs to help create a better quality of life for their residents.

Residents are exposed to various programs including master gardening and cooking classes, and financial workshops led by PNC Bank where they learn budget management and credit repair all keeping with Communities First’s goal of rebuilding community and opening doors for residents like Buckley.

Jorain Hardman said she understands how Buckley feels and Swayze Court has opened doors for her also.

“God blessed me with a mansion. I will be 54 come January. I know it’s never too late to do what you want to do,” Hardman said. “Being at Swayze Court, that even just pushes me more because I feel like doors have just been opening up for me.”

Hardman has been clean and sober since October 31, 2016 after battling a drug addiction for years. Since she has been a Swayze Court she has taken a gardening class and helps manage gardens at both Swayze and another Communities First development, Oak Street Senior Apartments.

“I learned a lot about myself since I’ve been here,” said Hardman who is pursuing her GED and said she will eventually work on an associate’s degree in human services. “They give me a lot of encouragement to keep telling myself, ‘Jorain you can do what you want to do. Nothing can stop you.’ I want to go into human services. I get joy out of helping people. It puts a glow on my face when I know I helped somebody.”

Residents are introduced to a number of workshops, classes and programs implemented by Communities First throughout the month. In addition to the gardening course, Hardman has also completed a nutrition program.

“We try to have something going on at least once a week,” said Molly Mueller who serves as supportive service coordinator for Communities First, Inc. “I do little bit of everything.”

Mueller serves as a contact person for residents, helping them to overcome any barriers to success that they might have. She helps residents find various resources, fill out paperwork and she sometimes is just a listening ear for residents who simply want to talk.

“Once they get housing a lot of the barriers just simply go away,” Mueller said. “Having a permanent address, a permanent phone number helps set them up to move to the next phase of their life. I think that the resources and the programs here are really helpful for the residents because we start with the basics.”

Through a number of partnerships including one with Genesee Health Systems, residents are able to receive both medical and mental health services to address any needs they may have.

“We make sure they are set up with doctors and mental health professionals as needed,” Mueller said.

They have a volunteer program where residents can learn various skills by helping with community events including Communities First’s summer-long Movies Under the Stars event.

“We also incorporate culture and art into the resident experience,” said Mueller. “That is very important to Glenn and Essence. It’s important for residents to thrive and grow and become viable members of the community.”

Unlike other housing developments, Communities First’s founders Glenn and Essence Wilson said they wanted to help people in Flint gain opportunities through economic development, affordable housing and other programs.

“God had mercy on me when I found Swayze Court,” Buckley said. “When I look at this building it shows me that I do have a future. This is a blessing…I cry a lot because I’m grateful. I just don’t want to mess up and go backward.”

Communities First, Inc. was founded in 2010. Since then, the organization has completed two multi-million projects including Swayze Court for an underserved community in Flint. In 2014, Communities First rehabbed Oak School into a 24-unit low-income senior housing facility. It opened September 2015.