Eighteen months ago, Brandi(cq) Kelly was at the end of her rope.
The Los Angeles resident had moved her little daughter from homeless shelter to homeless shelter for two-and-a-half years, ever since they lost their home when Kelly’s mother was shot and killed in a random act of violence. Kelly’s mother held the lease, and Brandi Kelly was unemployed.
“I felt like I wasn’t a good mother,” says Brandi, now 27, of those difficult years. “I felt like I couldn’t provide for my daughter. Nobody was lifting me up or motivating me.”
In March 2013, the congenial young woman learned she had gotten a much-coveted spot at the Menlo Family Apartments—KYCC’s latest affordable housing building; she and Brielle moved into their new home in April 2013. The Menlo Family Apartments offer comprehensive social services on the ground floor, including job training, mental-health counseling and afterschool tutoring.
Menlo was literally a lottery ticket to a better life for Brandi and Brielle. Part of the application process was entering a housing lottery.
It was a well-deserved break. From August 2010 to March 2013, she battled depression, unemployment and drug abuse. She and Brielle, who was 4 in 2010, moved from shelter to shelter in South Los Angeles, which disrupted Brielle’s early schooling.
Brandi was born to a 16-year-old mother, grew up in Watts, and her father wasn’t around much. She had a lisp, and because the speech impediment was classified as a learning disability, she was put in Special Education classes for all of her public-school years. If there had been a good, free tutoring program in her community, it would have made a big difference for her, she said.
She enrolled her daughter in Menlo’s afterschool tutoring program in the fall of 2013. At the end of October, the then-second grader could read only nine words a minute. But by early January, she could read fifty words a minute. The tutoring was instrumental in Brielle’s progress, says Jennifer Enani(cq), Brielle’s second-grade teacher at Leo Politi(cq) Elementary School in Los Angeles.
“I noticed a huge jump in her reading, writing and confidence,” Enani says.
Brielle, 8, describes how her teacher at Menlo’s afterschool program, Sungbok Lee, coached her in reading.
“She said a word first, then I would say the word second,” Brielle recalls.
Brandi’s transformation was also remarkable. Cristina Zuñiga, Resident Advocate at Menlo, refers residents who are low-income to social services and resources. Seeing that Kelly needed extra help, Zuñiga became her mentor and friend. In weekly meetings that went above and beyond Zuñiga’s job description, the Resident Advocate helped Brandi set goals and learn independent living skills. She also linked Brandi up with a resident psychotherapist to deal with the pain of losing her mother.
“I want to see everybody succeed here,” Zuñiga said. “I want it to be a success story for a lot of people.”
Today, Brandi is taking English and technology classes at Los Angeles City College. She hopes to one day earn a bachelor’s degree. She also wants to become a social worker and help others from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“There are not a lot of free programs out there that help a lot,” she says, “so I want people to take advantage of this.”