Finding Hope and Home in Castle Gardens
He remembers the autumn day as if it were yesterday. Standing on a New York City street corner, feeling a lot of uncertainty mixed with a sense of freedom—not daring to have hope in his future just yet.
On his first day out of prison after serving nearly a decade behind bars, Chris Carney, 41, faced the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding his life. He'd come to realize that there wasn't a single person or remnant of his former life waiting for him. His ex-girlfriend had left, and his only daughter was living with his parents two states away. Everyone else had moved on.
Fast forward a few years, and Carney is thriving thanks in part to the opportunities afforded to him through The Fortune Society, a nonprofit organization that serves formerly incarcerated individuals, helping them transition from prison to life on the outside. Carney became involved with the organization after happening upon a brochure about them, and they helped him to find steady employment, as the maintenance engineer in one of the buildings they operated.
A second chance
From the start, Carney determined to prove to himself and his new employer that he was a changed man, someone who took pride in working hard and contributing to something bigger than himself. Proving himself a responsible, hard worker, Carney was hired a year later as a superintendent of a new affordable housing development created by The Fortune Society. The new development, called Castle Gardens, is a 114-unit apartment building designed to provide housing for formerly incarcerated individuals and low-income families in West Harlem.
Today, Carney is in charge of the building, supervising a team of janitors and making sure the property is kept in tip-top condition. He also serves as a mentor to some of the residents who also are formerly incarcerated individuals, helping them rebuild their lives and find hope again.
"I feel incredibly lucky every day that I'm here," Mr. Carney told the New York Times. "I'm off parole, live with my girlfriend, her daughter and our dog. I get to help people every day work towards improving their lives. I keep the building up and running, continually learn and educate myself—it's better than anything I could have imagined. I feel like I can do anything."
The Fortune Society, along with Jonathan Rose Companies, created Castle Gardens with the goal of providing a living environment that promotes safe and sober socialization for hard working families with limited income and formerly incarcerated individuals who strive to successfully reintegrate into society. By providing supportive and affordable housing and essential services at the same site, Castle Gardens creates long-term housing solutions for homeless people with histories of incarceration and their families, as well as low-income individuals and families from West Harlem and the greater New York area. The heart of Castle Gardens is a 20,000 square-foot Community Learning Center, where residents can take advantage of services including counseling, case management, financial planning and other essential life skill development courses.
"Without Capital One Bank's support and partnership, this life-altering project literally wouldn't have been possible,“ says JoAnne Page, Fortune Society President and Chief Executive Officer. “In 2008, we were in the midst of finalizing our plans and pulling together the financing when the financial market collapsed. All around us, other important projects were being cancelled as higher financing prices strained and exceeded their budgets. But Capital One held strong, they kept their commitment to us and made the dream of Castle Gardens a reality."
Capital One's partnership in the creation of Castle Gardens is part of its commitment to investing in high-quality, affordable housing for local residents and families in New York. In 2011, Capital One provided $175 million in specialized financing for affordable housing in New York.
Today, Carney reflects on how far he's come since that day when he was first out of prison.
My life has changed tenfold, from being incarcerated, not even guessing where I'd be and the challenges ahead of me — Chris Carney
In the corner of his office sits a gold shovel from the dedication ceremony for Castle Gardens. It helps him remember the words Mayor Bloomberg told the crowd that day, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But sometimes you need a second chance to get your priorities straight."
“I hope to be a mentor for people to say, ‘you're not limited,’“ Carney said. “I keep pushing them to aim high.”