Charla Blake: Project Build A Future work rewarding, humbling

Published 8:53 am Friday, October 15, 2021

Since taking over as executive director for Project Build A Future in 2017, Charla Blake said she has settled into the most rewarding job she’s ever had.

The nonprofit helps low- and moderate-income families achieve the goal of owning a home. More than 100 quality homes have been built or developed over the organization’s 20-year history, she said. The organization also teaches residents about financial literacy and helps them improve their credit scores at no cost so they can purchase a home.

Blake, a Cameron Parish native, said the job has been very humbling.

“During the first year, there probably wasn’t a day that I didn’t cry at least once,” she said. “Either we were helping someone purchase a home or move toward homeownership, or we couldn’t help someone because they didn’t qualify. It’s overwhelming some days, but when it falls in place, it’s amazing to watch someone achieve a goal that they’ve worked so hard to get.”

Project Build A Future has dealt with various challenges in the year following Hurricane Laura. Because rising construction costs have driven newly-built homes above the affordability range for its clients, the organization has worked to secure other methods to provide quality affordable housing.

“We haven’t built a house this year,” she said. “We’re trying to help people keep the homes they’ve purchased.”

Blake said the nonprofit is working with the city of Lake Charles on a grant to dispense mortgage assistance to residents who have struggled to pay their mortgage because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project Build A Future has also worked with Red River Bank, a banking partner with Federal Home Loan Bank in Dallas, to provide grants to homeowners with contractor costs that are higher than the money they received from insurance companies.

The nonprofit is also moving into counseling residents after they purchase their home. Topics include planning for retirement, setting up a will or a college fund for their children.

“We want to make sure everything you work hard for, you continue to keep and be successful for the rest of your life,” she said.

After graduating from South Cameron High School, Blake attended what was then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. She later earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Blake spent 20 years teaching interior design at the Art institute of Dallas. During the entire time, she said Cameron Parish remained in her heart.

“Texas was never home for me,” she said. “No matter where I go, Southwest Louisiana and Cameron come with me. It is always going to be part of who I am.”

Blake decided to return to Southwest Louisiana and began working for the Arts Council of Southwest Louisiana in 2012. She said she wanted to continue her family’s legacy of serving the community and playing a role in its growth.

Blake said she was fortunate that her home was spared of damage from Hurricane Laura’s landfall in August 2020.

This week, she was just able to return to the Project Build A Future office. The past year was spent working from home, in a subpar office space, and a temporary office.

“I’m watching (crews) paint the front porch,” she said.

Blake said she has “severe place attachment” when it comes to Cameron Parish.

Blake said Hurricane Laura’s aftermath was painful, but not as much of a shock when compared with Hurricane Rita’s landfall in September 2005. The Cameron Parish landmarks she knew like the back of her hand — like family homes, her church and the school she attended — were all gone.

“There was no point of reference after Rita,” she said. “It’s almost like I had no past. That was a really strange feeling. Still, to a large degree, I don’t know where things are.”

With Hurricane Laura’s destruction, Blake said some of the growth in Cameron that occurred in the years after Hurricane Rita was hurt. Despite the setbacks, she believes the parish is poised for a comeback because its residents want it to happen.

Blake said her passion for Cameron Parish and Southwest Louisiana show in her choice to return after being gone for many years.

“I didn’t go away to stay gone,” she said. “I wanted to use my skills and knowledge while I was away to make the community a better place, and hopefully, in some small way I’ve done that.”

 

 

 

said she has settled into the most rewarding job she’s ever had.

The nonprofit helps low- and moderate-income families achieve the goal of owning a home. More than 100 quality homes have been built or developed over the organization’s 20-year history, she said. The organization also teaches residents about financial literacy and helps them improve their credit scores at no cost so they can purchase a home.

Blake, a Cameron Parish native, said the job has been very humbling.

“During the first year, there probably wasn’t a day that I didn’t cry at least once,” she said. “Either we were helping someone purchase a home or move toward homeownership, or we couldn’t help someone because they didn’t qualify. It’s overwhelming some days, but when it falls in place, it’s amazing to watch someone achieve a goal that they’ve worked so hard to get.”

Project Build A Future has dealt with various challenges in the year following Hurricane Laura. Because rising construction costs have driven newly-built homes above the affordability range for its clients, the organization has worked to secure other methods to provide quality affordable housing.

“We haven’t built a house this year,” she said. “We’re trying to help people keep the homes they’ve purchased.”

Blake said the nonprofit is working with the city of Lake Charles on a grant to dispense mortgage assistance to residents who have struggled to pay their mortgage because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project Build A Future has also worked with Red River Bank, a banking partner with Federal Home Loan Bank in Dallas, to provide grants to homeowners with contractor costs that are higher than the money they received from insurance companies.

The nonprofit is also moving into counseling residents after they purchase their home. Topics include planning for retirement, setting up a will or a college fund for their children.

“We want to make sure everything you work hard for, you continue to keep and be successful for the rest of your life,” she said.

After graduating from South Cameron High School, Blake attended what was then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. She later earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Blake spent 20 years teaching interior design at the Art institute of Dallas. During the entire time, she said Cameron Parish remained in her heart.

“Texas was never home for me,” she said. “No matter where I go, Southwest Louisiana and Cameron come with me. It is always going to be part of who I am.”

Blake decided to return to Southwest Louisiana and began working for the Arts Council of Southwest Louisiana in 2012. She said she wanted to continue her family’s legacy of serving the community and playing a role in its growth.

Blake said she was fortunate that her home was spared of damage from Hurricane Laura’s landfall in August 2020.

This week, she was just able to return to the Project Build A Future office. The past year was spent working from home, in a subpar office space, and a temporary office.

“I’m watching (crews) paint the front porch,” she said.

Blake said she has “severe place attachment” when it comes to Cameron Parish.

Blake said Hurricane Laura’s aftermath was painful, but not as much of a shock when compared with Hurricane Rita’s landfall in September 2005. The Cameron Parish landmarks she knew like the back of her hand — like family homes, her church and the school she attended — were all gone.

“There was no point of reference after Rita,” she said. “It’s almost like I had no past. That was a really strange feeling. Still, to a large degree, I don’t know where things are.”

With Hurricane Laura’s destruction, Blake said some of the growth in Cameron that occurred in the years after Hurricane Rita was hurt. Despite the setbacks, she believes the parish is poised for a comeback because its residents want it to happen.

Blake said her passion for Cameron Parish and Southwest Louisiana show in her choice to return after being gone for many years.

“I didn’t go away to stay gone,” she said. “I wanted to use my skills and knowledge while I was away to make the community a better place, and hopefully, in some small way I’ve done that.”