Waxahachie resident Carol Klocek rented out the floor of a closet to live in for a short time.

She knew she wanted to go to college and help people, but the uphill path led her to the Center for Transforming Lives in Fort Worth, where she now serves as its CEO.

She recently celebrated her 10th anniversary with the center this past week. Over that decade, she has more than doubled the operating budget and helped thousands of women and children climb their way out of homelessness and poverty.

"I'm really proud of it," she said. "I'm enthusiastic about the work we are doing."

The center’s senior development director Lyndsay Hoover has worked with Klocek for 10 years and said she can’t think of someone more passionate for her cause and the woman and children she serves.

"She believes that this team can and will make a difference," Hoover said.

CENTER FOR TRANSFORMING LIVES

The Center for Transforming Lives is a nonprofit that provides anti-poverty programs for women and children. Last year the center housed 186 women and 234 kids, Hoover noted.

The center offers temporary housing, child care, and job support services to help women in need get back on their feet and break the cycle of poverty.

In the daycare center about 70 percent of the children are either homeless or in impoverished situations, Hoover said. She noted that children in those situations tend to have developmental delays the center helps combat those.

At what used to be a hotel, the center renovated the space to best fit its needs, Hoover said. Downstairs, children run around in a daycare center with books, games and food.

Overhead on the third and fourth floors are rooms for women in need, Hoover noted.

The third floor is stocked with a kitchen and double occupancy rooms. These rooms are used on an emergency basis and women here typically spend about six months, she added.

Up above on the fourth floor, more long-term housing can be found. Like the third floor, the hall has a shared kitchen space, but the rooms here are single occupancy. The residents here spend upward of 18 months living in the rooms as they work with center employees find a job and permanent housing, Hoover said.

These housing units are used by women without children. If children are entered into the mix, the center finds housing for them off-site with a partner agency.

"It really is about helping people see their potential and then reach their potential," Klocek said.

She noted that the center isn’t a place to find handouts. It’s a place where women and children can find help changing their lives for the better while breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

"No one wants to come in just for a handout," she said.

It also offers financial empowerment by teaching women how to fund their lives and maintain their independence after they leave the care of the facility, Klocek said.

The center focuses specifically on women and children because their safety is at risk while homeless, she added.

"If a woman is homeless her physical safety is at risk every day all day," she said.

Childcare is a big factor when dealing with women in need, Hoover and Klocek noted. Without sufficient childcare, the mother can’t work and without work, rent can’t be paid.

"Our services are set up to address those specific issues," Klocek said.

WHAT BROUGH CAROL HERE

This wasn’t always Klocek’s path.

She is the second oldest of eight kids, and her family lived paycheck to paycheck. Her father fixed computers, which was a sufficient job, but it was never enough to care for the 10-member family he had at home.

Klocek lived in the garage attached to the house which had no central heating or cooling, and to help the family she babysat her neighbor’s children.

"I knew I wanted a different life,” she said. “I wanted to get out of that situation."

The only way out Klocek saw was through a college degree, but higher education for women was not part of her family background, she said.

Her father forbade Klocek from getting an education past high school and for a while she thought college was beyond her reach. She didn’t have the emotional or financial support of her family.

But, that changed when her neighbor taught her about financial aid and federal grants. It now seemed possible.

She decided to go into social work because she wanted to help people like herself.

"I wanted to do more for the families so the children wouldn’t have to grow up in those circumstances," Klocek said. "I want to break the cycle of poverty for women and I want to break the cycle of trauma."

Now, she has three children who have opportunities she never saw as a child. Her oldest is attending the University of Texas at Dallas and her middle child is going on school tours to find the school of her dreams. An opportunity Klocek never thought possible.

"It’s such an incredible luxury," she said. "It’s so surreal to think that what it was like for me versus what it was like for her. My kids have no idea what it would be like to go through what I went through."

Klocek plans to continue to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty by spreading awareness and helping one family at a time.

"I see myself in each one of those people,” she said.

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Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty

469-517-1451