The Future is Going to Be EPIC for Grant Award Winner Alaynai

We are honored to partner with the National Real Estate Practice of EPIC Insurance Brokers and Consultants for the sixth straight year to offer the EPIC Educational Support Grant to Mercy Housing residents. The purpose of the grant is to help recipients obtain their post-high school educational goals. This year, a $5,000 grant was awarded to 10 Mercy Housing residents, including  Alaynai, who lives at Village Park.

Alaynia Senior Photo

The grant is designed to go toward non-tuition-related expenses, including living expenses, supplies, and textbooks.

Headquartered in San Francisco, the National Real Estate Practice of EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants has a nationwide presence with a corporate culture that believes in the power of giving back to the communities in which they work and live. They encourage and support participation with nonprofit organizations and Mercy Housing is thrilled to partner with them again this year.

A Passion for Education Translates into a Future Career

It was Alaynai’s dad who first saw a flyer calling for submissions for the EPIC Grant. “I kept pushing my daughter to do it,” he shared.

Although she initially resisted her dad’s suggestion, Alaynai applied for the EPIC grant just before school started. “I was thinking that I wasn’t going to get it,” she recalls. But her dad and Olivia, the property manager at Village Park continued to encourage her and gave her much-needed support. “I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to put my hardest into this.’”

Much to her surprise, Alaynai learned that she was one of the winners. “I was shocked. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t believe it until Olivia called me. I had just woken up and was reading it. I had to reread it multiple times,” she said.

“It was just really helpful at the right moment, and everything was just perfect,” she explained.

Alaynai received her award during a small, intimate ceremony held in the community. “Her brother and I had talked previously about how we would surprise her. I got flowers and framed her certificate,” Olivia shared. “Her dad and brother told me that I was going to be invited to family events from now on because I am family to them and shared that this was life changing.”

Lee Family Silly
The Lee Family takes time to be silly while celebrating Alaynai.

Alaynai just began her sophomore year at Sacramento State University where she is studying to be an elementary school teacher, a dream she has had since she was little. “There was a girl who worked in the after-school program when I was young,” she explained, “She was always the one who would help me with my homework and my favorite subjects were art and math, but I noticed how she treated people.”

Impressed with how the “homework helper” treated everyone with dignity, respect, and kindness, “no matter what the situation, she never showed favoritism,” Alaynai started to mimic her behavior whenever she was around her brothers and cousins. “I treated them with kindness and then I realized that I loved being a teacher,” she said. “I babysat all of my cousins and taught them not to say bad words,” Alaynai added, “and taught all of them life skills.”

She decided she wanted to pursue a career in education during her freshman year in college. “I had volunteered at a preschool for a semester and loved the kids. It was such an amazing experience,” she described. Alaynai is leaning toward teaching kindergarten, third grade, or preschool.

“I want to be there for little kids too. I want to leave my mark.”

A Grandmother’s Impact and the Power of Forgiveness

Alaynai’s grandmother has had a very big impact on her life. “She taught me how to cook. She taught me how to clean,” Alaynai shared. “She taught me how to be respectful and make sure I didn’t do bad things, and if I did, she would punish me to teach me the better. I really appreciate her for that.”

The two have shared a special bond for much of Alaynai’s life. Her grandmother played an instrumental role in raising Alaynai and her twin brothers. “She’s the person I love most in the whole world,” Alaynai shared. “I really look up to her.”

Alaynai and Grandma
Alaynai with her favorite person in the world, her Grandmother.

Her grandmother grew up in Thailand, where large families were common. “The belief was that the more hands you had, the better it was to support the family.”

When Alaynai’s grandmother moved to the United States, she continued to grow her family. She is a mom to seven children, including Alaynai’s dad.

Alaynai’s dad was incarcerated during most of her childhood. “At first I didn’t like him because my brothers and I had been through a lot,” she shared. However, her dad sent Alaynai letters regularly from prison. “That brought me to feel like, okay, maybe my dad will come back.”

He promised her that although their connection wasn’t good when she was growing up when he got out of prison, he would be there for her and her brothers.

When her dad was released, they slowly began to build trust and a new bond. “He brings out my inner child – the inner childhood that I never really had or expressed,” she said. “And I’m happy to say that I built a special bond with my dad – I’m always bothering him, we’re always joking, and he’s my second favorite person, after my grandma. And I really love him.”

Alaynai has forgiven her dad and is now focused on continuing to rebuild their relationship.

Alaynai moved to Village Park in Sacramento with her grandmother and her brothers from their Fresno home over a decade ago. Despite some initial challenges and with the help of Olivia, Alaynai has grown to love her community.

“Before I met Olivia, I wouldn’t step out of my apartment,” she said. “Now I have a friend and someone I can go to that lives literally a couple of houses down. I feel more comfortable – she made me realize that I’m happy and this is my home.”

Property Manager Olivia and Alaynai share a silly moment. 

Having grown up in similar circumstances, Olivia sees a lot of herself in young Alaynai. As she explained, “I have been a property manager for almost six years, and presenting her with the EPIC Grant Award is one of the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding moments of my career.”

For Alaynai’s dad, who now lives about 20 minutes from the Village Park, the community has brought him peace of mind. “My mom’s older and she had a stroke, and she walks very slow. But there are always people looking out for her,” he explained. “And that’s what community should be.”

“I think if people see this and they take it upon themselves to do this everywhere they go, they could impact the world,” he added. “Mercy Housing has helped hurting families so much. They have broken barriers and set a new cycle in motion. Now people are succeeding regardless of the struggles they face.”

The family is grateful to live in a community where they can socialize and meet new friends. “Everybody here helps each other,” Alaynai shared. “Even though there are hard times, bad times, there’s still good people around here who want the best for you.”

A Young Mind Hopes to Shape a Brighter Future

The EPIC Educational Support Grant provides residents an opportunity to fulfill their dreams, often after overcoming many obstacles just to find affordable, stable housing.

“I paid all my bills,” Alaynai shared. “I’m so happy because what would I have done without the grants.”

Alaynai has recently taken an interest in doing something that combines education with social services. “If I don’t fall into the teaching career, I can still work with kids through social services.” She is awaiting word from her advisor to see if she can incorporate social services and teaching into her dream career.

In the meantime, she plans on continuing to share her sense of wonder and excitement within the Village Park community and spread kindness wherever she goes.  “Everybody could do a kind thing,” she said, “and it starts with the people around you.”

Thank you once again to the National Real Estate Practice of EPIC Insurance Brokers and Consultants for your contributions that help make the dreams of Mercy Housing residents come true.