First college students in their family

Eah Housing, Avena Bella resident Nicole Esparza, at left; Gary Soiseth, mayor of Turlock; and Sierra Ceja (Nicole’s eldest daughter), a former Avena Bella resident. Avena Bella resident Nicole Esparza, at left; Gary Soiseth, mayor of Turlock; and Sierra Ceja (Nicole’s eldest daughter), a former Avena Bella resident.

Turlock, California, April 13, 2017 - Nicole Esparza’s journey to affordable housing began in 2014 after an intruder tried to break into her one-bedroom home in Turlock, Calif. It was 2 a.m. and she and her four daughters were terrified. They survived the encounter, but Nicole, a single mom, was determined to find her family a safer place to live.

She found it at Avena Bella, a multifamily EAH Housing development in Turlock. “I’m very grateful we got the opportunity to move in here,” said Nicole, 39, of their three-bedroom apartment.

She and eldest daughter, Sierra Ceja, 20, were also grateful they got to represent Avena Bella residents at a Feb. 8 meeting with their congressman, Rep. Jeff Denham. EAH Housing organized the gathering, which included Mary Murtagh, EAH Housing CEO and Greg Soiseth, mayor of Turlock, to talk about the need to support affordable housing for low-income families.

“It was really nice to hear about plans to open up more housing like Avena Bella for people like us who work hard and want to better themselves,” said Sierra, winner of an EAH Housing scholarship in 2014.

Thanks in part to that $2,500 scholarship, Sierra now studies business and car mechanics at Modesto Junior College. “I didn’t realize how expensive college can be,” she said. “Knowing there was someone out there like EAH Housing supporting my education meant a lot.”

Her mother, Nicole, a cosmetologist for 21 years, has also taken classes at Modesto JC. She gives credit to affordable rent at Avena Bella for her feeling financially secure enough to consider going back to school. She says she will complete a business management degree or pursue a new career in medical billing.

She and Sierra are the first members of their family to go to college.

Sierra now works full time as swing manager at a restaurant, saving money so she can work less and study more in the fall. She would eventually like to transfer to a four-year college.

Sierra and her mom are both thankful for the stability and amenities that make Avena Bella a true community. There’s an after-school resource program for residents’ children, a small vegetable garden, a pool and all-building air conditioning that helps keep Nicole’s electricity bills under control. The large community room also hosts her younger daughters’ Girl Scout troop.

“The school for my younger kids is right next door and it’s a hop, skip and jump away from the grocery store, which is right next to that,” said Nicole. “It’s perfect here at Avena Bella.”