03/30/09 — A second chance for a neighborhood

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A second chance for a neighborhood

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 30, 2009 1:46 PM

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Courtyard Apartments property manager Felina Chase, center, maintenance supervisor Vernon Harvey, right, and maintenance coordinator Bob Morgan, left, inspect the kitchen cabinets inside one of the newly renovated buildings Wednesday afternoon. Tenants will be able to begin moving in by Friday.

Felina Chase knows about life in Section 8 housing.

The property manager with McClain Barr and Associates managed a low income housing unit in Maryland for 10 years, and before that, Ms. Chase herself grew up in public housing.

And now, she is using her experience, both professional and personal, to help bring changes to residents of Courtyard Circle in Goldsboro.

"It was quite a mess when we got here. Now we're under renovations, just making it feel more like home," Ms. Chase said.

When her company began managing the property in August 2007, the apartments were in poor condition. The current construction project includes central heating and air conditioning, new carpeting and other amenities -- but the company is also trying to give residents a new sense of community by changing the property name to The Grand.

Ms. Chase also appeared before the city council, requesting to change the street name to Day Circle. Although the name was previously changed from Green Acres Circle to Courtyard Circle just a few years ago, it's time for an overhaul of perception of the property, Ms. Chase said.

"We want to try and change the name to give everybody a different persona," she said.

But changing the name is just one facet of what she is trying to accomplish for the residents.

"I've lived there. I know the experiences. I've seen change," she said. "I want to show them that if I can do it, you can do it also."

Ms. Chase led the Sister to Sister program at her previous position and plans to introduce it at Courtyard Circle, too. Sister to Sister is a community-based support and training group that helps young women prepare for job interviews, write resumes and learn other vital life skills.

"You get together with young ladies and show them how to do resumes, dress up, fit into the world," she said.

Besides the Sister to Sister program, The Grand will have another new feature designed to empower the residents and to give them the chance to help one another. Ms. Chase is also helping the community to establish a residents' council.

"They've never had one before. They nominate each other. They look at the issues going on on the property, if a child doesn't have enough food or if a family is struggling," she said.

The council can also always go to the management for help, and connect with outside agencies that can provide a helping hand.

"It worked out really well at our other property," Ms. Chase said. "That's the kind of things that are going to make The Grand a better place to live. The future is going to be better with our residents' council to give them a chance to do something different."

There is more in the works, too. Part of the main rental office is being renovated into a community center where she hopes to hold Sister to Sister sessions and to provide a place for the residence council to hold meetings, and eventually start an after school center for the children living at The Grand.

Ms. Chase is even donating several computers to the center so adults can work on resumes and kids can do their homework.

"It's all about the residents," she said.

She hopes to provide other activities for children, such as double dutch teams, afternoon snacks and homework helpers.

But the proposed name change is also significant.

"Changing the name would be big," she said. "Everybody is pretty excited about the name change."

The renovations for the community center are on track to be completed within the next two to three months, and the first group of residents will be moving in to the newly renovated apartments April 1. Just a few days later, the Goldsboro City Council planning committee will have the chance to give a recommendation on whether to change Courtyard Circle's name to Day Circle, a more visible sign of what Ms. Chase is determined will be the start of a new day for residents.

"People ask, 'Has she given up yet?' People ask me, 'Are you going to leave, are you going to leave?' I say, 'No, I'm going to see this property completely changed before I leave it,'" she said.