Columbia Housing Authority Coordinator Tries to Make a Difference

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COLUMBIA - Cornellia Williams has worked in the Columbia Housing Authority for almost five years, and is ready to help people in need every day.

Williams is in charge of three programs, Public Housing Family Self-Sufficiency, Money Smart, and REWARD, which help people become more independent and overcome struggles they have in life.

People have to be public housing residents or Section 8 housing residents to participate in the Family Self-Sufficiency program. Williams helps public housing participants develop goals and achieve them at the end of the program. Participants can be in the program up to five years to become self-sufficient.

Melissa Riechers, a participant, moved to Columbia four years ago. With Williams' help, Riechers got her GED and enrolled in Columbia College.

Riechers said Williams pushed her to get everything done. Now, she is an assistant manager for the housing authority.

"I was able to save my money and get a vehicle for myself and my children, and get little things," said Riechers. "I was able to give my kids all the fancy high-tech X-boxes, iPods and phones, and all that stuff. So hopefully, we are saving that money, so we can hopefully soon buy a house."

Riechers said Williams is such a positive person, who lets her believe she can achieve her goals and make a difference in her life.  

"She's always encouraging everybody," said Riechers. "She wants to help. She actually goes above beyond to help. She's always there if you need her on matter what."

Williams said the housing authority creates an escrow account for each participant. When the participant gets a better job and earns more money, which will result in an increase in rent, the housing authority will put the amount of the extra rent the participant pays into a special savings account. When the participant reaches the goals and graduates from the program, he or she will get a check with the money in that special savings account and interest from the housing authority.  

Before graduation, the participant has to have been welfare-free for one year and graduated from the Money Smart program, which helps people learn how to budget their money, spend money wisely, save money and be good home owners.

Williams said she is happy to see participants become self-sufficient.

Williams is also the coordinator of the REWARD program, which helps unemployed public housing residents get back to work. So far, she has helped about 30 people in this program.

Williams said to handle three programs, she has good time management. She said her family members support her and she always looks at the rewarding part of her job.

"I love my job," said Williams. "My job is very very rewarding. At the end of the day when I go home, even if I'm extremely tired, I know that I have made a difference in that day with somebody."

Williams said when the people she is talking to are not friendly or nice, she keeps one model in her mind, "Just be nice," because she can understand their situations.

Williams dropped out of her high school and had to live in public housing before she decided to make her life different. Back then, Williams said there were no programs she could rely on. She had to be self-sufficient on her own. 

Now, with three college degrees, Williams said she wants to give back and help people who have the same struggles she had before.

"Even though they're upset, you can't take it personally, because they're struggling with life," said Williams. "And so, because they're struggling with life, you have to help them along that struggle."

As an African-American, Williams said she wants to become a good role model. She believes if she helps one, that person might help two. 

However, she said she is also worried about young people in her community, where she is seeing more gang violence. 

Williams said she hopes African Americans in this community can come together to reach out to each other, care for each other and support each other to solve their problems.