"My first job was at McDonald’s. From McDonald’s I went to Walgreens. From Walgreens I went into beauty supply. From beauty supply, I prepared taxes. From there, I went to Rent-A-Center for 11 years,” Teneika Rivers Dancy, a southeast Houston native, tells us in the reception area of her building.
She’s just moved into her apartment in the sprawling, immaculate, New Hope Housing development, part of the 187-unit Star of Hope Cornerstone Community on Reed Road in south Houston. The new, seven-acre compound is a partnership between New Hope, Star of Hope, and Buckner International—a nonprofit supergroup that also coordinates with other organizations to assist homeless and at-risk families.
Nearby, a few workmen are jackhammering—the building’s not quite finished—but Dancy, wearing a gingham dress, says she doesn’t mind. Now a full-time student majoring in Maritime Transportation Management and Security at HCC, with plans to enroll at TSU, she’s one of 20 single parents who’ve already moved into apartments here through Bucker Family Pathways, which provides single parents with housing, child care, and budget-management assistance while they’re in school.
“It’s a self-sufficiency program,” says the 38-year-old mother of two sons, 12-year-old Cameron and 9-year-old Caden. “They give us the tools we need in order to make that happen, and it’s on us to make things happen.” Those tools include a new washer and dryer, appliances, beds, a sofa set, dressers, a dining table, massive granite countertops, and free utilities.
Dancy found herself in major trouble in 2014, her credit wrecked, her marriage toxic. Her boys were staying in $260-per-week child care until 8:30 p.m. each evening, as her husband went in and out of jail and she worked 50 hours a week. She suffered from chronic PTSD. When her husband came home, he got violent.
“Something had to change,” she says. “Then something did happen.”
More domestic violence. Except she’d had enough. She left her husband for good and brought her boys to her mother’s house in southwest Houston, where they all slept on an air mattress in the open den. Her sister and an uncle were also staying at the house. Her mother charged rent—which Dancy pulled from her 401(k)—and told her she had to be out in a year. “It was tough love,” she says. “I understand it.”
Dancy struggled, working at Rent-A-Center and attending school at HCC. She was up one night on the Internet when she discovered AVDA, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse. She went for counseling and brought her children. Then she found financial assistance for classes and books through the nonprofit Capital Idea. Soon she heard about Buckner Family Pathways. “But I was scared they would take my kids,” she says. “Because they also have a foster program.”
That’s not Buckner’s modus operandi, though. The group works to support families, not strip them of kids. After a year at her mom’s, Dancy moved into an apartment in Bucker International’s Medical Center campus. By 2017, she had an associate’s degree.
But that didn’t solve everything. “After applying for jobs even with the associate’s, they were still only offering $12- or $13-an-hour jobs,” she says. “And that’s below the living wage.”
So Dancy applied for a longer stay with Buckner, and will graduate from TSU with a bachelor’s degree next year. From there she’d like to work at the Port of Houston, start her own logistics company, and then buy a house. “At first I was like, I don’t want to deal with a yard,” she says. “Then I was like, but you have two boys. You can put them out there.”
Until then, Caden and Cameron will just have to burn up all their energy at the Buckner community center, massive playground, and children’s library, all on site. “Once I removed them from the toxic environment that we were in, they really started developing and growing,” she says. “But I guess I had to believe in me first.”