Welcome Home, Celene

 

Celene has been bucking the odds her whole life.

Born in Riviera Beach in the late 1960s with a litany of health issues, Celene was told that she wouldn’t live long.

Fifty years later, Celene’s cheerful grin is the first thing customers see when they enter their neighborhood McDonalds as she serves up big smiles alongside Big Macs.

Celene came to Community Partners because she needed help with housing. Renting a room in a boarding house, Celene dealt with both verbal and physical abuse from her neighbors as well as contending with an unscrupulous landlord who consistently tried to hike up her rent.

Stressed at home and unhappy with her job at a local fast food restaurant, Celene knew she needed a change and she was willing to put in the work to Change The Odds.

“She is ambitious and intelligent. She speaks English, Creole and a little bit of Chinese,” said supportive housing coordinator Shanya. “We worked with her for a year before things started to happen.”

The odds started to change when the manager of a rival fast food chain came into Celene’s workplace. Little by little, he noticed that she was a great employee – prompt, friendly and efficient. They got to talking and he offered her a position at McDonald’s for more hours and more pay. Celene gladly accepted.

With a steady paycheck, a good credit score to her name and a clean background check, Celene was an exemplary candidate for housing services. Shanya worked hard to ensure that despite her low income, Celene would find a place to call home.

That place was a new apartment complex being built in the heart of West Palm Beach.

Tenants typically pay 30% of their income towards rent and since Celene’s salary is just above the federal poverty level, she pays roughly $300 in rent every month.

As the neighborhood caters to low-income residents, Celene needed to be approved by both the West Palm Beach Housing Authority and the apartment complex itself.

She was approved with flying colors.

“We walked her through the whole process from start to finish,” said Shanya. “We advocated for her – helped her set up her FPL account, set up other bills and now, she has a housing case manager that meets with residents once a month to maintain independent living.”

The process was a long one and there were times when Celene lost faith. She didn’t think she’d ever have her own place to call home, but in those moments – Shanya was there, showing patience and grace and advocating for her client.

“I called Celene and told her that she had an appointment at the apartment complex and she told me that she couldn’t go because she had to work,” Shanya explains.

So, Shanya drove to McDonalds and met with Celene’s manager.

“I asked to speak to him and told him, ‘You know that Celene needs an apartment? She has an appointment at 10:00am and she said she can’t get out.’ The manager was more than willing to work with Celene and change her schedule around.”

Shanya laughs as she remembers Celene’s joy upon finding out she had gotten approved for the apartment.

“She screamed! ‘What?! I was wrong! It happened!’ Fifty years old and this is her first apartment.”

Thanks to the generosity of Palm Beach County residents, Community Partners has a robust donation program and we often receive charitable gifts of furniture, clothing and home goods. Shanya asked if Celene wanted to access any of these things and she refused.

“I asked her what she needed and she said she saved enough money to buy her own bed and that her church would help her with the rest!” Shanya said.

Now that Celene doesn’t have to worry about her living situation anymore, she can focus on issues that she put on the back burner – like her physical health. 

Tangible change takes hard work, perseverance and collective effort.

“People would either not see her or take advantage of her situation,” Shanya said. “Celene would have slipped through the cracks. But we worked together, we involved the community and other resources and together, we Changed The Odds.”