Aurea’s Not Done

Anything is possible with hard work, singular focus and people in your corner. She’s the proof.

It was a hot, sticky Bronx summer day. The ice cream truck pulled up to the front of the door. The kids ran out, clutching their small bills, eager to get their hands on whatever frosty treats awaited.  Aurea Albers stood on the sidewalk, watching her little boy Elbert jockey for position in the line. Then, gunshots. A full-on gang brawl had broken out and was pouring down the street, a roiling mass of violence just a few blocks away. More gunshots. Aurea grabbed Elbert and another little boy–all she was able to hold–and desperately pulled them inside. That was the day she decided to upheave her life. That was the day she decided to move to New Hampshire.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  She had grown up in New York and, at that time, had been living with her mother, someone who had provided support when she needed it the most.  When Aurea had split from her long-time boyfriend and, as a result, lost her job, her apartment, everything really, it was her mother who gave her a place to live. Not a huge place–a studio, not much bigger than an office conference room, shared by four people–but it was home.

But now it was time to leave and the destination was foreign, far and, most concerning, quiet.

“I didn’t like New Hampshire at first,” she said. “It was quiet. Everything was far away. And my mom meant everything to me.”

Even tougher, Aurea had to separate from Elbert while she pieced together a new life. Almost every weekend she would make the six-hour drive to the Bronx to see him, sometimes even for one night, before turning around and trekking back north.

“It was very hard,” she said. “Those drives were killer, but I was focused on my goal. I kept telling myself ‘I was going to do whatever was possible to do it. As long as God gives me the health to I’m going to succeed. I was going to make a better life for my son.’”

Her New Hampshire life began at a zero setting: she spent her first few months couch-surfing with friends and scratched out a modest income with two full-time jobs:  as a prep cook at the Holiday Inn from, 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. then a cleaner at Golds Gym from 4:30 until 10:00.  During her off days and the brief respite between jobs she worked to secure Section 8 housing.

Six months later she was living in a two-story townhouse in Dover.

It was a revelation.

“That was awesome,” she said. “I never knew what a townhouse was, and with a playground right out the door, I didn’t have to worry about Elbert’s safety. It was a huge relief.”

And that’s truly when her second life began. For the next fifteen years big changes happened, including a new job as a housekeeping manager at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, a move to a larger apartment, and the birth of her second son, Isaac.  She was checking off life goals like crazy, but a big one still loomed: buying her own house. That opportunity revealed itself through a Habitat for Humanity flyer, left at her door. She called immediately.

“We knew right away she was a good candidate,” said Marcie Bergan, Executive Director of Southeast NH Habitat for Humanity. “But she had issues with her credit so we couldn’t accept her application at first.”

That was in 2014. Marcie referred Aurea to Rockingham Community Action and their asset-building program.  There, she had weekly meetings with Rebecca Boyle, RCA’s Asset Development Coordinator, a United Way-funded position, and over the course of 35 hours the two identified debt priorities and worked towards cleaning up her credit.

“Aurea is the one who steered the ship,” said Rebecca. “I just gave her advice. She created the path she wanted to follow. It was so exciting and motivating to work with her.”

Additionally, Rebecca connected Aurea to the volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) program, a project of the CA$H Coalition of Southeastern New Hampshire. United Way helped to launch, currently funds and participates in the CA$H Coalition.

“Financial capability is a key focus of United Way’s work,” said Jessica Vaughn-Martin, Director of Community Impact for United Way. “Watching how services like VITA and Rebecca’s financial coaching helped propel Aurea is truly inspiring.”

Through VITA, Aurea earned tax credits and refunds, which she used to pay down her debt. This, supplemented by her work with Rebecca turned around her credit.  After months of work, her dream was finally within grasp.

So it was, on December 5, 2015, Aurea and her two boys walked into their new house in Farmington.  There was a Christmas tree. There was a group of house-warmers, including Habitat’s own volunteers. And there were tears. Lots and lots of tears.

“I remember during the building process I was asked to pick cabinets,” Aurea says. “No one had ever asked me to pick cabinets. Were they serious? I felt like a little girl with a Barbie house. I was in tears the whole time that first day.”

It’s been light years since her life in the Bronx, but she wants more. Like her own housekeeping business. She’s already cleaning a few homes thanks to word-of-mouth from friends and colleagues. Why couldn’t that turn into something bigger? Why not her?

Aurea’s not done.