Sitting at home on the couch drawing disability seemed like a probable future for Rickquette when she moved into Pine Ridge Manor in October 2014. The largest complex managed by the Topeka Housing Authority, Pine Ridge had a reputation for crime, and the neighbors kept largely to themselves.
“I didn’t know anybody. I was always in my house. My kids weren’t at the school yet, so we were always in the house. There was nothing for us to do.”
But in 2015, Rickquette found a flyer on her door for a new program called NOW. Intrigued, she went to a meeting that would change her path forever.
“As soon as NOW started, it changed a lot.” Rickquette’s ever-present smile widens with pride when she tells you she has been to every NOW meeting, from the earliest community conversations to planning for the next National Night Out event.
Through the NOW Liaison, Rickquette and other tenants were able to tell THA how the poor outdoor lighting made them feel unsafe in their own yards. THA heard those concerns, and now Rickquette says “Pine Ridge is very nice and lit up. Usually we’d be trying to get in the house before it got dark.” Feeling safer outside more also means more chances for neighbors to strengthen their sense of community.
United Way and NOW have brought light to Pine Ridge in more ways than one. Healthy cooking classes that also feed a family, free fitness classes right in the neighborhood, and events that encourage learning at all ages bring resources and opportunity to the residents.
When her boys started at Pine Ridge Prep, the United Way-supported preschool in the neighborhood, Rickquette volunteered. Because
of her commitment to NOW and her obvious skills in the preschool, Pine Ridge Prep offered her a job as a paraprofessional, something she couldn’t have even imagined a few years earlier.
Her involvement with NOW neighborhood projects helped her build relationships with housing staff and other tenants. Both groups began to see her as a valuable facilitator. So it wasn’t surprising when she was elected to be the president of a newly created Resident Board. “Some of the residents don’t know how (to talk to THA). I’m the voice. I am THEIR voice, not only Pine Ridge, but all of their voices. I feel like I can do that, and they feel like I can do that.”
Even brighter days are ahead. Her visits to the newly expanded Pine Ridge health clinic have inspired her to recruit more residents to use it. The clinic has also led to a new career path–medical billing and coding. Rickqette recently received a scholarship through THA to take certification classes and hopes to use her new skills right there in her own neighborhood.