Clay, whose real name and likeness aren’t used to protect his identity, is one of the 200 participants enrolled in the guaranteed income pilot Arlington’s Guarantee.
Clay grew up in the historically black Arlington neighborhood of Halls Hill. A 53-year-old father of 5 children, his life has been filled with highs and lows; from home ownership and running a successful business to jail, homelessness, and drug and alcohol dependency; from proud fatherhood and a 20-year relationship to estrangement from his family and a near-death health episode that left him unable to work. Today, he is holding down two jobs as a butcher at a local grocery store and a blackjack dealer at a nearby casino.
“At a young age I made a bad decision and got involved with drugs and then getting out and committing more crimes and getting locked up. I didn’t get out until I was 30. I read every single book in the jail library. I learned to have compassion and forgiveness, first for yourself. You always center yourself by saying I did the best that I could with the information I had. That’s how I conditioned my mind when I was incarcerated to deal with the time. Upon my release, I was a personal trainer on Capitol Hill and there I met a lot of influential people who were able to help me start my own towing business.
I expanded the company too fast. My grandparents had left me a property in Arlington next to the Arlington Hospital. In 2009 during the housing financial crisis, I ended up losing everything.”
“In 2009 during the housing financial crisis, I ended up losing everything.”
After getting his Commercial Driver’s License and starting up another towing business, Clay had a major health episode. “I don’t know if that was a stroke or what. I remember that happened, and then the Charleston massacre in the church really seemed to trouble my mind and shortly after that, I can’t remember. Around 2017, I couldn’t hold a thought and couldn’t drive any longer.”
“I asked for assistance from Arlington. They provided me and my family with emergency shelter and then 90 days later they had us in rapid housing. It was just a lot of transition going on with the family, with myself, with my health. I wasn’t familiar with public housing. That was all new to me. Mr. Charles plugged me into OAR. He said, ‘Your story might be able to help the guys.”’
“I’ve been a resident of Arlington all my life, and when I was at my worst point, Arlington was there to help me.”
“I’ve been a resident of Arlington all my life, and when I was at my worst point, Arlington was there to help me.”
When I started at the grocery store, I couldn’t’ even work 6 hours before my body was just fatigued but again, I’m working now. That was good. I was getting that extra $500 every month, so I was able to get a solid diet going.For me consistency and stability are things that I thrive on. That consistent extra $500, I leaned on it. I knew it was going to end, but it just gave me the time and showed me consistency.
“I’m an Arlingtonian by birth. I went to Glebe Elementary, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown. I’ve seen Arlington evolve from the perspective of being an African American. My father, when he bought his house in Arlington, paid $20,000, but he’s not going to get the assets from that. When the communities like Halls Hill, Green Valley got disrupted in the 90’s with the mass incarceration thing and the crime bill and the mandatory minimums, that generation was exed out. So now, you have that big gap. My father just ended up selling and moving on to where it was not as expensive.”
Learn more about Arlington’s Guarantee here, and read other participant stories below.
The County’s vision is that Arlington is “a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community… in which each person is important.”
The participants of Arlington’s Guarantee represent that vision. We value them, and they belong here. Meet eleven participants who have generously shared a small part of their story and what their experience has been in the pilot so far.
Unless otherwise noted, stock images and pseudonyms are used to protect participant identities.
Daniel, who wanted to share his real name, is the 12th child of a long-time Arlington family. His mom was born in 1921 and raised her family here in what was the Butler Homes neighborhood (now Penrose). He was actually born in a DC hospital, because Arlington Hospital was segregated when he was born. Daniel is a father of three who now works as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist for people who have substance abuse and mental health challenges; and he is looking forward to being hired by Arlington County in that capacity.
A returning citizen, he feels blessed because “God has given me the opportunity to make my latter years better than my former years in order for me to be in a position to do something for others.” He’s appreciated getting some coaching on realizing his future goals from Phill at OAR.
Daniel continues, “I’m a volunteer here in Arlington in multiple things. Every day is a good day – a blessed day – because I am able to actually give. I want to take college courses on the professional development side and will be looking between George Mason and NOVA. I feel the extra cash is giving me a sense of security. It has taught me to be more conscientious and more structured about my spending. Upon my daughter’s graduation, I’ll be getting her some things that she needs for college.”
Helen is a 40-year-old mom of a 6-year-old daughter. Originally from East Africa, she is an educated and skilled woman with an administrative and marketing background. The notification that she would be receiving the unconditional cash came at an especially vulnerable time for Helen. It allowed her to regain the hope and energy she needed to find a new full-time job after having been laid off due to COVID.
“I was struggling. I was in fear 24/7 about the future and felt a failure as a mother. I reached out to the number that was provided. The amount of empathy and words of encouragement from the person who answered the call – Sahureli Mendoza Khoury (program advocate from Arlington’s Guarantee) – will always be in my heart. It gave me a fresh start without having to worry about the debt accumulated during the time I did not have a job after COVID-19.
Having this extra monthly income improved my wellbeing tremendously! I was able to be more present for my child because of the assistance. Something I did for us that can be considered as fun is that I bought a few books for my daughter and myself.
What makes Arlington feel like home is that I feel safe, supported, and uplifted.”
A native of Guatemala, Kiara moved to Arlington in 2018 to look for a new opportunity to improve her life. She lives with her 2-year old son. Kiara is focusing on finishing her medical assistant training program while working as a home health aide.
“Arlington’s Guarantee has allowed me to work and study at the same time while being a mom as well. It has helped me a lot in the sense of being able to improve myself professionally. When I received the extra cash income, I was very surprised, and I said ‘now I am going to study!’ One of my challenges is working overnight shifts because I work 24 hours sometimes. Obtaining my certificate would mean that I could work at the hospital, maybe with a more flexible schedule.
Arlington is the most helpful place for new people. Sometimes because of a language barrier, one has limitations, but in Arlington, they can find places to get assistance and free English classes at the community center.”
Bryanna is a 48-year-old mom, with a 9-year-old son who attends Hoffman Boston Elementary School and a 21-year-old daughter enrolled in Aveda Academy. She has a great deal of ambition for herself and her children. She is a self-employed yoga teacher and is starting up a new business called Good Soul Kitchen. She dreams of renting a building that she can cook out of.
“The extra cash allows me to be able to leverage my money differently with the relief of having an additional $500 to make, plan, and prepare for the future. Before, I had to cut off all extracurricular activities for my son because we have to pay the bills, and I’m running the business now, so we’re trying to make money and not lose money. As soon as I got this monthly cash, I was like, ‘I can sign him back up for soccer, I can sign him back up for piano, to keep that momentum going!’ Now, I have opportunities to focus on purchasing startup stuff for my business.”
A mother of two, Anita moved to Arlington from El Salvador in 1997 to escape violence and provide a better life for her children. She works full time as a cook and lives with her son who is a junior in Wakefield High School. She also has a 32-year-old son, who is currently completing a technical training. She finds tranquility in Arlington and wants peace of mind for her children. She is working with an Arlington’s Guarantee coach, taking steps toward her goal of adding a room to her place for supplemental income.
“I can now rest easy without thinking that I have to pay debts. I do not have the stress I had before. Something special I did was that I ate a very delicious meal. I always thought about it because I did not want to spend much money, but the third time I received the $500, I went with my son to eat at a buffet, and I felt really good!
When I hear the word ‘community,’ for me it is a united group. Just as the people who are helping in this program are doing – as a community – helping without knowing whom they are helping means they are uniting people.”
Bilal and his wife, Fouzia are parents of 7-year-old twins and a 12-year-old. “After I finished high school, I went to a technical school. Then I got a Diversity Visa through the lottery program, and I came to the United States from Morocco. When I came here, I did a lot of jobs. I did everything, delivery, restaurant, hotel, taxi, everything.” He and his wife have taken advantage of many opportunities to work on reaching their goals and providing for their children.
A few years ago, while Fouzia was home with their young twins, she began taking REEP classes to learn English. As she advanced in her English proficiency, they enrolled the twins in APS preschool. Fouzia then completed her GED and is now just one exam away from her A-Plus IT certification!
Bilal shares, “I got a Commercial Driver’s License 1 year 3 months ago. I just got a new job and finished my training with Canada Dry as a driver. Most companies asked for experience, but this company didn’t. And also, it’s local, so I can be with my family at night and weekends. I wake up at 3am Monday to Friday with weekends off and in the summer, they start a rotation, and I get overtime pay.”
Bilal and Fouzia have used funds from Arlington’s Guarantee to pay off the tuition for Fouzia’s IT classes and to help with their bills. “This [guaranteed income] is a good system. You can use the money to pay the credit card or the phone or my wife’s school.
“I’ve spent 20 years here. I have good neighbors, they help each other. Arlington is a good community.”
Clay grew up in the historically black Arlington neighborhood of Halls Hill. A 53-year-old father of 5 children, his life has been filled with highs and lows; from home ownership and running a successful business to jail, homelessness, and drug and alcohol dependency; from proud fatherhood and a 20-year relationship to estrangement from his family and a near-death health episode that left him unable to work. Today, he is holding down two jobs as a butcher at a local grocery store and a blackjack dealer at a nearby casino [Read Clay’s full story here or at the button below].
“I’m an Arlingtonian by birth. I went to Glebe Elementary, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown. I’ve seen Arlington evolve from the perspective of being an African American.”
“For me consistency and stability are things that I thrive on. That consistent extra $500, I leaned on it. I knew it was going to end, but it just gave me the time and showed me consistency. “I’ve been a resident of Arlington all my life, and when I was at my worst point, Arlington was there to help me.”
Luisa’s son, now seven, was born shortly after she moved to Virginia. She studied engineering in her native Bolivia, but now was starting all over again as a single mom. “As an undocumented immigrant, I feel like a ghost sometimes, because often we have to stay hidden.”
Nevertheless, she values Arlington for the opportunities that it provides her son, “Arlington is a good community because people try to help me, and everything is close by…it’s so helpful to have reduced fees so that I can afford to put my son in swimming lessons.”
The additional cash has enabled her to make ends meet and do something very special: “I sent my son to Bolivia to meet his grandparents during the holidays. I stayed back to work, but it meant a lot to me that he could go. He loved it.”
Luisa has now taken up swim lessons for herself so she and her son can swim together, “Even though things are hard, my son says he’s proud of me, and that he wants to be like me when he grows up. I love my son more than anything in life, so I’m going to be there for him.”
Reema arrived in six years ago and applied for asylum after emigrating from Egypt with her 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. She didn’t live in Arlington at first, but a neighbor told her that Arlington had great schools, so Reema made it a priority to move to provide a brighter future for her children.
“It was very hard at first. People know it’s difficult to find work as a recent immigrant, so they take advantage of you. I was working for $9 per hour with no benefits. We could only afford to rent a room, and my kids had to always stay in the bedroom because the landlord didn’t even allow them to play in the living room.”
But Reema and her children have found a welcoming community in Arlington. “When my kids go to school, they don’t feel left out. There are other kids that look like them. It’s very diverse. The teachers and other parents are helpful. We feel very safe here. That’s why I love Arlington.”
Reema currently works at a jewelry store but hopes to continue her education. Recently, Reema was accepted to a master’s program and will start school in the fall at George Mason University.
“I don’t give up. I work very hard to get a better life for myself and my kids…the [monthly] cash helps people have a decent life. It helps with food and essentials, but also helps families spend more time together.”
Makayla is a 40-year-old mother of 5. She sees her 9-year-old on weekends, is working to get custody of her 7-year-old, and stays connected to her older kids through phone and FaceTime. “I’m recovering from substance abuse. I’ve been clean for three years, four months and some days. I just got out of the drug court program. I graduated in January and recently got probation. I’m currently involved in GED classes.” The extra cash from Arlington’s Guarantee helps pay for the classes and her court fees.
She remembers having to rely on her 20-year-old for support. “It was embarrassing. I was pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, and I couldn’t take my son anywhere.” The extra cash has allowed her to pay her bills and to have some special moments with her 9-year-old son. They have enjoyed going into Gallery Place in DC, an art show in Clarendon and farmers markets. “And then recently, we went to this new place in the mall, a game room.”
Makayla works for Turbo Tax 35 hours per week, but “it’s hard to get the hours that you want. I have an interview set up for a dog daycare job, working at the front desk. I’m focusing on college and getting my credit back on track. Now, I’m thinking about more positive stuff. I’m thinking about where I’m going today. I’m focusing on college and on my career, what I want out of life. My ultimate goal is to have my own pit bull rescue because I love pit bulls. I believe they deserve a second chance. I also want to hire felons. They deserve a second chance as well.”
Getting connected to the community more while in Arlington’s Guarantee has been a real plus for Makayla. She’s been working with a community program to work on her credit repair. She was also selected to participate in a focus group on the County housing grants program, which is where she gets her rent support. “It was pretty neat to get to voice our opinion.”
Gideon was in his mid 20’s when came to Arlington from Ethiopia in 2005. He studied law and was working for World Vision when he got the opportunity to come to the United States. “I’ve been working many different jobs” in and near Arlington including a hardware store, a university, several bus systems, and a hotel where I worked as a driver most of the time.” Before having children, he worked a lot, often holding down three or four jobs at the same time.
Gideon now devotes much of his free time to the four young kids that he is raising with his wife who he met back home in Ethiopia. “I am a home daddy. I love my kids very much. My first goal is making my children mentally and physically successful. What they do when they grow up is their choice. The parents need to be there to guide the kids when little. They are going to be part of the American people for the future.”
For Gideon, Arlington’s Guarantee came at a crucial time. Because of the pandemic lockdown, “I was out of my second job. My wife at that time had a new baby and could not work. So we had only one job with kids and this chance with Arlington’s Guarantee was very helpful. There’s not any question about this. Money helps you with everything, when you have kids. I used it during the Corona time. You know, at the time there was a challenge. Now my wife is working part time.”
“My plan is to continue my IT, software engineering or something. I used to be going to NOVA. But you need to have time. I will continue soon and finish online. I have many dreams.”