Immigrant parents from Guatemala set former Centertown resident on the path to college and success

Eah Housing

February 2018, Richmond, California - Zuleika knows firsthand that housing security changes lives for the better. Her parents left their war-torn Central American country in 1986 for California, and later raised three children in Centertown, an EAH Housing community in San Rafael, Calif. Thanks to that strong start, Zuleika graduated from college and is now a policy coordinator with a program at the Richmond Community Foundation in Richmond, Calif.

“Access to education is really key to breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Zuleika, 30. “It definitely was for my family.” She says stable housing, like that provided by EAH Housing, is essential to allowing parents, like hers, to invest in their children’s educations.

Because Centertown was affordable, Zuleika’s parents didn’t have to work every weekend and every night. They were able to support their children’s education, including getting them extra tutoring in math and writing. They also had the time and energy to advocate for their children with school officials.

That boost paid off. Though her parents left Guatemala before finishing their university educations, all three of their children have graduated from college. Zuleika received a BA in Public Policy Analysis from Pomona College in Southern California, and an MA in Public Policy from the University of Michigan.

A year ago, Zuleika landed a job at the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign To End Poverty in Contra Costa, a program operating under the nonprofit umbrella of the Richmond Community Foundation. In addition to advancing housing policy, Zuleika also works toward changing Contra Costa County policies around food, safety, education, and financial and health security.

“I’m a child of the nonprofit sector,” said Zuleika. “My housing was provided by a nonprofit. I was in many nonprofit programs, including after-school programs, summer programs, and college access programs. Without them I probably wouldn’t have gotten to college or be where I am now.”

She also had her parents’ example. At 14, Zuleika’s father, born in mostly-Mayan Quiché state and raised in Guatemala City, washed cars to make money. In the States, he did day labor, worked in building maintenance, took classes in electrical work and a year ago got a job with the Marin Housing Authority.

Zuleika’s mother was 18 when her father died and she began helping care for four younger siblings. In the U.S., she worked as a nanny and babysitter before building up a four-employee house-cleaning business in Marin County.

The sacrifices her parents made drive Zuleika to help others.

“My passion has been helping people, making sure they have the resources and opportunities they need to build the life they want for themselves,” she said. “My experience living at Centertown has shaped my work; I know how important it is to have a safe and affordable place to live. I’m grateful organizations like EAH Housing exist to create housing for folks like my parents.”