HRHA Giving Tree / Christmas Program Suspended for 2021

Due to ongoing software transitions and agency changes, the HRHA Giving Tree/Christmas Gift program is suspended for this year. We are really saddened that we will be unable to pull this program together this year. We do however encourage you to support or connect with organizations like the Salvation Army (Angel Tree), Department of Social Services (seeking gift cards), and others who are running similar programs this Holiday season.

If you would like to support our families in other ways, such as through FSS Programming, scholarship support, garden events, and more please consider a donation through our website at


We hope to continue the Giving Tree program in 2022. Thank you for your understanding! 

First Annual Back to School Bash Provides Resources and Fun for Families

On September 11, 2021, HRHA hosted the first annual Back to School Bash for Franklin Heights Families. HRHA worked with 10 community partners to create an event that was fun, safe, and helpful for families. We had a wonderful turnout and the weather as near perfect. Neighborhood children helped clean up the area for the event and community partners started arriving around 4:00pm to set up their stations. The event was held in the grassy area behind the Reservoir Street apartments near Kiwanis Park.

Children were invited to take a ‘passport’ that include the names of each partner at the event. Children then went table to table or activity to activity to get a stamp from each partner. Competed passports earned them a goodie bag from HRHA that included pencils, snacks, and coupons.

We are incredibly grateful to the following agencies and community groups who partnered with us this year. They include:

  • The Ice Cream Pedaler who provided home made ice cream made by bicycle!
  • Harrisonburg Baptist Church who brought a popcorn machine and all sorts of yard games. The big beach ball was a huge hit.
  • Massanutten Regional Library who brought books and signs ups for library cards.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters who spoke with families about their programs, including the new Sports Buddies Program. The even brought donuts and inflatable bowling.
  • Jones Garden who had children and families brush up on their herb identification with a matching game.
  • The Gus Bus, a regular in our neighborhoods, who had all sorts of goodies and learning materials.
  • Students in the Harrisonburg High School Governor’s STEM Academy who held paper airplane making and launching tutorials.
  • Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation who held DIY lava lamp making demos.
  • Boys and Girls Club who shared about scholarship opportunities for our families.
  • Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) who shared vaccine information with residents while having face to face conversations on vaccine hesitancy and safety.

HRHA also gave out school kits and supplies thanks to the support of United Way.

Hope to see you next year!

Heidi with Harrisonburg Baptist poses with a bag of popcorn next to a red popcorn machine.

Heidi from Harrisonburg Baptist Church poses with a bag of popcorn.

A family talks with Elizabeth from Big Brothers Big Sisters at a table.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County shared about their new Sports Buddies program (and had donuts and lawn bowling).

An employee with the Virginia Department of Health and a young girl stand side by side at the VDH table under a canopy.

Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) shared vaccine information with residents while having face to face conversations on vaccine hesitancy and safety.

David King sits on top of the bike he uses to make ice cream.

David King, the Ice Cream Pedaler, churns a fresh batch of homemade ice cream while HHS students study the process.

Kids stand on four corners of a 5ft high 4-square volleyball net.

Naomi of Jones Garden and Franklin Heights children try their hands at a game of volleyball 4-square.

David King of the Ice Cream Pedaler stands with two HHS students at the Back to School Bash under a canopy.

David King (right) and HSS STEM students served up bike-made ice cream.

From Housing Assistance to Home Ownership

All participants who choose to enroll in the Family Self-Sufficiency program (FSS) are invited to establish goals when they sign the 5-year contract. Many participants aim to take the many steps needed to prepare for home ownership. This involves working on their credit, budgeting, securing a higher paying job, and learning about the home buying process.

In July, FSS participant Amber closed on her home and moved out of Franklin Heights. Amber joined FSS when she moved into Franklin Heights in 2019 and successfully worked through the program to secure a higher paying job. Amber shares her reflection about moving from housing assistance to home ownership.

“I was on the waiting list for what seemed to be a very long time. When I finally got a call I was so relieved due to being a single mother of two children and struggling with a stressful low wage job and life expenses. When I moved to the Franklin Heights neighborhood I found the most amazing neighbors, to what now feels like family. I joined the FSS program after a couple weeks of being in my apartment and I was beyond grateful for the wonderful people in the FSS community.

I loved the interaction, the encouragement, and being able to discuss my dreams. I got great advice and help with things I wanted out of life that I had no clue how to do myself or where to start. My FSS caseworker Everett made things so clear, easy and understanding. He was so helpful in helping me get my goals, dreams written down and kept me motivated to try my best with check ins each month. I went to school for medical assistance. I got an amazing job in the Healthcare industry. My children have grown and learned from this experience as well, watching me keep going on my goals. We have graduated from the FSS Program and we just moved into our new home. We have a new and bright outlook on life, and I give a great thanks to this community for their support.” – Amber G.

Stakeholder Engagement Process Begins for MtW Agency-wide Changes

To apply for Moving to Work (MtW) designation, HRHA conducted initial outreach and engagement processes with residents, participants, and community agencies in Fall 2020. We presented a number of changes we were hoping to make to improve efficiencies, reduce burden on residents, participants, and staff, increase family self-sufficiency, and expand housing choice and stock. HRHA submitted our request and initial plan to HUD December 2020 and we received notice of acceptance January 2021. HRHA is one of the few housing authorities in the country to receive this designation and be granted the flexibilities that MtW allows.

As we work to refine our proposals, we continue gathering feedback from residents, participants, and community partners. There are many opportunities in the coming weeks and months to learn more about our changes and offer your insight and perspective. An entire calendar can be found on our MtW page and includes opportunities to join online focus groups, submit comments via a feedback form, or schedule a call with a member of our team. We hope you contribute your insight as we implement these major agency changes.

MtW designation is a huge opportunity for our agency to better serve our residents and participants through expanding housing opportunities, collaborating on self-sufficiency initiatives, reducing administrative burden, bringing in new landlords, supporting first time home buyers, and much more. We hope you join us in crafting programs and policy that best serve our community. Thank you!

 Moving to Work (MtW) Webpage

Resident Reflections on a Pandemic Year

As the pandemic moves into a second year we hold the hope for normalcy alongside the recognition that we are not past the loss, challenges, and need for caution. It has been quite a year, demanding changes that needed to be informed, fast, and flexible. As spring continues and our country ‘opens back up’, our work continues at a rapid pace. 

It has been quite a year for our residents and participants as well. While we have shared resident and participant perspectives throughout the pandemic, we invited a few to share their reflections on the last year and offer their words here.


“To learn in March 2020 that people would soon be sick and many would pass on was awful to hear. I learned I needed to be stronger, wiser, and more caring towards others. I learned a lot of new rules and really a new way of life. I learned that every day when I get out of bed I will have to make it count because tomorrow it never promised. My hardest challenge this year was learning my grandma had COVID. Even harder was learning I only had a little time left with the lady that had raised me and taught me everything. Sadly I did lose her in March of 2021 to COVID and pneumonia…I am hopeful my son and I will be better than ever because I know she is watching and guiding us all the way.” – Ashley G.

HRHA resident Sheila and her two sons at the Franklin Heights Community Clean Up Day. April 3, 2021

“In 2020, my biggest challenge was not working. COVID-19 is really scary. People dying, people I know dying, it’s really scary. Biggest challenge was also getting to know myself the past year, especially when we had the lockdown. Made you think about life a lot, goals, where you really want to be in life, and how to get things accomplished. It’s crazy how you were planning your future and then one big thing happens, and this time it happened to the whole world…I am looking forward to a healthy life, to accomplish the goals I have. I am also excited for my daughter to start college and also one day I want to be a home owner. I also had an opportunity to get another job this year so I’m grateful for it. Praying that the world will come in peace and there will be a solution for COVID-19. I thank God for everything I have. I’m glad for the help from FSS, knowing someone is there to help you reach your goals.” – Allonia A.

“I have learned many things this past year 2020…Since having to sit at home I have used this time to go back to college and trying to be able to open up a food truck business, praying by the end of this year. The hardest part of 2020 was not seeing my children in person. Thank God for video visits! I miss the big hugs and cooking together in the kitchen and sitting around talking and playing games. I do look forward to things changing soon and I can do all of that with my children and go to parks and Skyline Drive. They can even come and watch me graduate in the beginning of 2022. I am ready for life to happen again.– Ramona A.

14th Annual Giving Tree Underway

Every year, HRHA invites community support to ensure children of families in our Family Self-Sufficiency program receive gifts around the Holiday season. Every year, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County families, organizations, and groups step up to make that happen. The 14th annual Giving Tree initiative is now underway, with trees at the Valley Mall in Harrisonburg (beginning November 30) and Agora Downtown Market (beginning November 10). We are thrilled to work for the first time this year with our new partner Agora Downtown Market.

Giving Tree with donation box at Agora Downtown Market

Giving Tree at Agora Downtown Market

Want to share some joy this Holiday season? Simply pick an ornament from either Giving Tree. Each ornament has a child’s name, age, clothing size, and a few items they asked for this year. Purchase anything on their card (or a gift card) and return the gift(s) with the ornament back to the box at Agora, Valley Mall, or the HRHA office at 143 Reservoir St.

We are incredibly grateful for the community’s support of our families throughout the year. Special thanks to WHSV for covering the initiative and Valley Mall and Agora Downtown Market for hosting trees.

Gifts are given to parents and guardians in our Family Self-Sufficiency program to give to their children around the Christmas Holiday. Donations of gift cards are used to purchase gifts for names that may have not been taken, or as gifts for teenagers who may be harder to buy for.

We would appreciate all gifts returned to the boxes at Agora or Valley Mall, or our office on 143 Reservoir St, by December 13. Please include the ornament(s) with donated gifts so we can connect them with the right families!

Thank you!

Franklin Heights Halloween Drop-In

The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) coordinators planned a Halloween drop-in on October 30 for residents in HRHA’s Franklin Heights. Stephanie, a resident of Franklin Heights (FH), did all the decorating, creating webs, stringing lights, and more to create a fun and safe Halloween atmosphere. One at a time, each family had the opportunity for a household picture (on polaroid to take home), pick a pumpkin and treat bag, and (for adults) to connect with an FSS coordinator to learn more about Moving to Work (MtW) and provide comment if interested. We had over two dozen families come through with over 40 kids!

Patience with her own winter squash

FSS Participant Cora and kids

Franklin Heights resident Stephanie did ALL the decorations for th eevent!

The basement of the Reservoir Office was converted into a fun and spooky walk through.

Family Self-Sufficiency graduate Alina pursues home ownership

The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program is a 5-year program funded by HUD and coordinated by HRHA staff. Program participants work with one of our coordinators to establish goals around finance, education, work, and family at the start of the program. Participants sign a 5-year contract committing to work with us to reach their goals, increase their income, and become more self-sufficient.

FSS Graduate Alina holding graduation certificate at the Reservoir St Office

Alina with her FSS graduation certificate – August 2020

The FSS program is one of our most successful programs. With their housing costs subsidized, individuals and families are better able to focus on other critical pieces of self-sufficiency like reliable transportation, higher education or training, financial literacy, and more. As participants increase their income in the program, a portion of their increased rent payment is put in a savings (escrow) account. This money becomes available to them upon program graduation. Every year graduates leave our program better equipped to support themselves and their families.

This August, Alina Santos graduated from FSS. Alina started the program in 2015 without a job and with a substantial amount of debt. Through the five years, Alina worked with her FSS Coordinator to secure a job at Purdue and eventually Aarons, where she sees job growth opportunity. She worked on her financial literacy and management, paying of debts and raising her credit score from 400 to over 650. She began building an escrow (savings) as her income increased. She used some of her savings to buy a reliable car, saving the rest to have options for a down payment on a house down the road. She is currently working with our Homebuyer Assistance program and has completed the online homebuyer preparation course.

JMU CMSS partners with HRHA for Kids Cultural Fair – MLK Week 2020

Despite the cold rain, a dozen or more kids from Franklin Heights scampered over to the basement of the Reservoir St Office for a Kids Cultural Fair. Put on by volunteers with the James Madison University Center for Multicultural Student Services, the fair provided activities for children geared at self acceptance and celebrating diversity and community. The Cultural Fair was part of a range of activities, speakers, and events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Week put on by the Center. We are incredibly grateful that JMU CMSS reached out to partner for their volunteer initiative this year and hope it can happen again!


two student volunteers standing in front of the Reservoir St basement below a sign that reads JMU CMSS Martin Luther King Jr CelebrationTwo student volunteers with JMU CMSS help children cut out and make paper people

A Generous Community – 12th Annual Giving Tree Initiative a Success

The last of the gifts are going out this week to parents in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Since 2007, HRHA and the FSS program have teamed up with community partners on a Giving Tree initiative. For working families in the FSS program, December and the Holiday season can be incredibly stressful. HRHA creates ornaments with children’s names and gift requests and places them on tress at both the JCPenney Salon and Santa’s Workshop in the Valley Mall. Community members, families, and organizations pick out a child or two or more, purchase gifts, and return them to our office. This year with your help we provided gifts for over 90 children from around 40 families. All received gift in time for the Holidays.

We are incredibly grateful for WHSV for covering the initiative, as well as organizations like the Blue Ridge AACN and Broadway High school FFA Chapter who together provided gifts for nearly 30 children. We are also grateful to Diane and the JCPenney Salon team and the team at Santa’s Workshop at the Valley Mall for hosting the trees every year. Thank you for making this years Giving Tree a success.

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

“I can’t even find the words to express how thankful I am! Honestly was terrified this month for Christmas. And now I am blessed I can rest easy for my children will have presents! Thank you thank you thank you!”

“Thank you so much for making sure my kids have a Christmas this year!”

“Thank you for saving Christmas!”

“This helps out in so many ways, I’m the only one working. Thank you”

“Being a single mom is tough. This helps ease the stress on me and more importantly brings Christmas magic to my daughters. Thank you much for being a real life Santa”

“Thank you for your generosity, thank you for helping my daughters have a good Christmas”