A Life Transformed: ‘I feel I won the lottery’

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EAST LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The mannequin in Patricia Cruz’s store is a work in progress. An art piece more than a showpiece, it represents “the forgotten ones” – returning veterans who struggle to survive life outside the combat zone.

In 2015, Patricia lost a forgotten one of her own – a beloved friend named Curtis who after years of emotional struggles, jumped to his death off the Pasadena Bridge. An artist and shop owner, Patricia re-imagined a mannequin she had found, using paper cuttings and metal shavings to bring the white Styrofoam form to life.

Unlike the other art pieces in her shop, “The Forgotten One” is not for sale, through she hopes it will one day earn a cover spot in a veterans magazine.

“I see me putting Chris back together,” she says. “I love my work. It helps me in so many ways.”

Patricia’s store, La Rusticana, is one of 11 business fronts – all live-work units – at the Alta Vista apartment community in East Los Angeles. The resident-business owners have living space behind their businesses – in Patricia’s case, a two-bedroom apartment that she and her children live in. Her business space is a combination art studio and store, from which she sells her original work and that of other artists.

Her live-work space and her $900 monthly rent allows her to manage all three – her family life, her craft and her business.

“I don’t have to rent commercial space. I wouldn’t be able to afford that,” Patricia says. “When I heard about (Alta Vista), I was very excited. There was a waiting list and I wasn’t sure I would have the opportunity to move in, but it worked out. I feel I won the lottery.”

Business has not been as robust as it was when she had a shop in Idyllwild – different market, different customers – but Patricia is confident that will come.

“It’s been a process. Nothing flourishes from one night to the next morning. It takes time,” she says.

In the meantime, she continues to perfect her craft. Years ago, while working days in a metal factory, she began experimenting with making art pieces out of metal shavings. To this day, she maintains a relationship with her former employer, who provides her with shavings and scrap metal.

“Everything I see is art. I see beauty in all things,” she says.

Steve PonTell, President and Chief Executive Officer for the project’s owner, National Community Renaissance (National CORE), says Alta Vista’s 11 live-work units provide a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs such as Patricia. In addition to the space itself, the community offers business assistance through National CORE and the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC).

“Running a successful business while managing a household can be extremely difficult,” PonTell says. “Through out live-work spaces and the programs available to our resident business owners, we’re able to take our mission of transforming lives and communities to a whole new level.”

About National CORE, Hope through Housing
National Community Renaissance, based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing. CORE manages nearly 9,000 affordable, senior and market-rate units in California, Arkansas, Texas and Florida. Over its nearly two decade history, the Hope through Housing Foundation has provided more than 2 million hours of transformational social services such as financial literacy training, senior wellness, and preschool and afterschool programs. For more information on CORE and Hope through Housing, please visit www.nationalcore.org.

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