Valerie Aguilar is an honor student, a member of her high school scholarship club, Bible club and marine biology club, and will attend the University of California-Santa Barbara next fall in her quest to become an environmental engineer.

Sounds like the perfect setup for a perfect life – something Valerie herself would not disagree with. But getting to this point wasn’t easy. Homeless for two years, her father having been deported to Mexico for not having the proper papers, Valerie and her mom took temporary shelter wherever they could find it – with friends, family members, anyone who would take them in. Having the time or space to do simple tasks such as studying became major challenges, compounded by her mom’s terminal thyroid condition.

Salvation came in the form of Downey View Apartments, a state-of-the-art affordable apartment community in the heart of this Los Angeles County city. National CORE built Downey View to help very low-income families rebuild their lives and eventually move from dependency to prosperity.

In Valerie’s case, she and her mom not only are able to make ends meet, but can live close to school and work. “Moving here has made my life so much easier,” Valerie says “Everything is so much better. I can finally experience high school way my friends do. It just made my life perfect, I think.

Maurice Patterson, community manager at Downey View, calls Valerie “super kid.” She’s too modest to agree, crediting her mom with being the family superstar. “My mom is a wonderful person and does everything in order for me to be successful. She is always there for me, supporting me,” Valerie says.

Steve PonTell, President and Chief Executive Officer of National CORE, says Valerie and her mom illustrate how important affordable, quality shelter is in breaking the cycle of dependency. “Unfortunate things happen to good people, but with a little bit of help, things can change and new opportunities can – and do – present themselves,” PonTell says. “Valerie is going to go on to college and have great success in her life, and if I were to guess, she will find a way to contribute back to her community in a big way.”

Valerie herself bristles at the suggestion that residents of affordable housing somehow had it coming. “It’s better not to judge a book by its cover,” she says. “I know a lot of people think that if someone doesn’t have enough money to pay their bills, that they must have messed up somewhere, that they didn’t take their education seriously or didn’t take their job seriously. In my situation, it wasn’t like that. One thing led to another and we found ourselves in a financial rut.”