Cynthia Huff and her granddaughter LaShaunti Natt at Our House's Home for the Holidays event on Dec. 7 OUR HOUSE


Our House has announced Cynthia Huff and LaShaunti Natt as recipients of the nonprofit’s 2018 Resilient Family of the Year. Huff and her granddaughter, LaShaunti, a junior at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School, received a $15,290 college savings plan from the Arkansas 529 College Investing Plan. The savings plan includes a $5,290 gift from Arkansas 529 and a $10,000 gift from Arvest Bank, which partners with Our House’s career center to provide financial literacy and empowerment classes to the nonprofit’s clients. Our House also partners with Arkansas 529 to enroll participating low-income families in the college savings program.

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A video shared by Our House on Monday afternoon shows Huff and LaShaunti tearfully surprised by the presentation of the award during a meeting with their case manager in the re-entry program, Rachael Borné. Ben Goodwin, executive director of Our House, said Huff connected with the re-entry program’s services after initially engaging with the nonprofit three years ago through its Central Arkansas Family Stability Institute, a program that provides comprehensive support and services to help participants avoid homelessness.

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“When we found out more about her story, she connected to other programs, specifically the re-entry program,” Goodwin said. “Cynthia has been in both state and federal prison in the past, and that was creating real challenges for her with employment [and] with housing. Working with the re-entry team … up until the present day, it’s been one of the things that’s been most helpful for her.”

Huff’s son, who is also LaShaunti’s father, is incarcerated, and Huff said the help her family received from Our House was instrumental in achieving stability when she became LaShaunti’s guardian.

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“They answered questions, they pointed me in the right direction, they gave me contact information, they networked me through everything,” she said. “God has been working and getting me involved with the people at Our House, and there is no limit as to how amazing they both are.”

Huff and LaShaunti completed the 12-month CAFSI program before Huff began participating in the re-entry program. LaShaunti also participated in Our House’s after-school program, Our Club, for a year, during which Huff said her granddaughter helped tutor other children in math skills. LaShaunti’s afternoons are now filled with after-school activities at Parkview, as she plays the clarinet in the school’s marching band and orchestra and is a member of the Beta Club.

According to Goodwin, this is an indication of both LaShaunti’s bright future and her grandmother’s determination to help LaShaunti realize her potential.

“[She’s an] A-student, musician, athlete, has great potential and a great future ahead of her,” Goodwin said. “She wants to be first in her family to go to college, and Cynthia has, despite all the challenges she’s had in life, latched onto and found such great purpose in helping LaShaunti succeed. She’s worked so hard in her job, worked so hard outside of her job, to make sure LaShaunti just has everything she needs to succeed.”

This determination is emblematic of the Resilient Family award, Goodwin said. 

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“The intent of the award is to recognize and lift up one family who embodies the resilience that we think is key to overcoming homelessness and extreme poverty,” he said. “The goal is for it to be a window into the work we do every day with families, for the community to see, and then also to be an inspiration to other families to see what’s possible if you commit to our programs, and you take them seriously.”

According to Goodwin, the Our House team had already chosen Huff and LaShaunti for the award, but not yet announced it to the family, when Huff told Borné she needed help getting LaShaunti into college. “It’s a great testament to how that’s just at the forefront of Cynthia’s mind, is how to help her granddaughter and how to be an advocate for her,” Goodwin said.

Huff said she was completely surprised by the award, as she knew Our House and Arkansas 529 were helping LaShaunti prepare for school, but she didn’t expect help of this magnitude.

“I never had a clue, not even an inkling of a thought, that she was going to get this kind of money,” she said. “This is the most amazing gift. I don’t expect this. I wish my mom was alive to see this, and I wish my son was free to see this, too.”

Goodwin said that members of the Our House team nominate families for the award and after careful consideration, the administration picks the winner. Huff said she’s thankful for the opportunity it’s afforded LaShaunti, as the scholarship is just a few thousand dollars short of Huff makes in a year at her job at the Holiday Inn Conference Center, where she’s worked for the past eight years. 

“It’s been one of the most remarkable things that I have ever, ever been a part of in my life,” Huff said. “We’ve had Christmas early because of the scholarship money and the Resilient Family fund. … I can’t stop thanking people for helping me get this opportunity to change her life. This is a life changing thing for her. It’s just amazing.”

Huff said she’s going to talk to Borné about potentially using a small portion of the funds, or maybe some of her own money that she’s set aside, to take LaShaunti on a trip to the ocean, as LaShaunti wants to eventually become a marine biologist after attending Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, and the family has never taken a vacation together. 

“She’s never been to the ocean,” Huff said. “She’s a science nerd and a math nerd. … I think she’s worked hard enough where she should have some sort of award for it.”

Other than that trip, Huff said she plans to spend the entirety of the funds on LaShaunti’s education. “I have no interest in taking something from her that I’ve been working so hard to give to her,” she said.

Huff said she encourages other people who are in unstable financial or housing situations to seek help, and she hopes her story prompts those folks to do so. “I found out about Our House… by asking questions and raising my hand,” she said. “If you don’t ask any questions, how are you going to find out what to do? Humble yourself and be able to ask. I hope my story helps other people. I don’t want everybody to think that they’re by themselves, because they’re not.”