A cozy celebration marked a momentous occasion for graduates of the Housing Authority of City of Santa Barbara’s Family Self-Sufficiency program Friday evening.

The modest setting and low-key ceremony at HASB’s Garden Court senior facility couldn’t disguise the importance of the event for Cassandra Lopez.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” she said, her voice cracking from emotion.

It was a sentiment repeated several times by the other graduates of the Family Self-Sufficiency program, run by the HASB. The graduates, once trapped on a treadmill of high bills and low-paying jobs and often the sole provider for their families, now came away more financially aware, disciplined about their money, and confident about their prospects.

It’s a confidence won after five years of coaching, guidance and goal setting, according to Frank Quezada, program director.

 “There’s no one-size-fits-all program,” he said. FSS is a suite of counseling, education and referrals for services tailored to the career goals of every participant. About 170 families have participated in the program. Thirty-five of them have bought a house in the area.

“We break the career goals up into smaller goals and identify the obstacles,” he said. That formula is helping get graduates like Brenda Bristol her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch College while she singlehandedly raises her son, who has Asperger’s syndrome. 

“I wasn’t really doing anything, just taking care of my son,” she said, of life before the FSS program. Now she lives in a place of her own and plans to open her own practice.

What it takes, said Quezada, is sometimes just a goal-oriented mindset and a lot of persistence.

“I’ve seen families who’ve given up on themselves become homeowners.”

On hand to support the graduates were friends and family, program administrators and local elected representatives, including Santa Barbara City Council members and Supervisor Salud Carbajal.