How Terri Iguina helps Richmond families get back on their feet: 'She is a wonderful person'

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Mar 09, 2023

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- At the corner of Nine Mile and Dabbs House roads, a nondescript brick building does not stand out from the rest on the outside. But step inside Housing Families First and you will find something not offered anywhere else in Henrico County.

LaShae Johnson and Trevon Pettis have been living here since October 2022. Last fall, after a family member's death and financial hardship, the pair of 27-year-olds who share four children under the age of eight found themselves with nowhere to live.

They turned to Housing Families First the county’s only homeless shelter.

"I didn’t think shelters were like this. But this shelter is very nice. Very clean. You actually call it a home," Johnson said.

Terri Iguina, the Director of Operations, has been with the nonprofit for a dozen years.

"Every single night there are families sleeping on the street,” Iguina said.

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This refuge, which started as Hilliard House 22 years ago, offers a lifeline and temporary accommodations along with all of the amenities while families find stability.

“They are actually trying to find me a job. They’re trying to find me a home. They’re trying to find me a lot to get me going,” Pettis said.

The nonprofit serves 700 individuals each year with safe lodging, home goods, and clothing.

The average stay is 75 nights.

During that time families receive housing and job advice and most importantly a shoulder to lean on.

“Everyone loves a fresh coffee pot, and new sheets. Comforters that their kids pick out. Toiletries and cleaning supplies,” Iguina said.

During the last couple of years, Iguina has led a renovation of the building from top to bottom.

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“I have the best team of operations staff," she said. "I have the best team of volunteers who walk in here every day and support the work I do."

Iguina said providing for families in need is her life’s calling and so much more.

“I hold babies, I mop floors, I tie shoes. I hold hands with people,” she said.

Johnson and Pettis said during their five-month stay, Iguina has taken on the role of a second mom.

"She has a good heart. A wonderful heart actually," Johnson said. “She is a wonderful person. Couldn’t ask for anything better. Every time she sees me she puts her arms out. She plays with my children. She makes them feel whole.”

The couple said they could never repay Terri and her staff for what they provide.

"This woman didn’t have to put herself out there to help folks. But she does,” Pettis said.

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“Yes. I’m blessed. Tears of joy. We should be out in two weeks,” Johnson added. “It is very nice. I’m very blessed. We’re very blessed.”

Terri Iguina adores welcoming people at Housing Families First. But her favorite moment is seeing a family leave with their heads held high.

“It does get emotional because I want this place exactly like if it were my children and myself and my husband,” Iguina said. "You must be able to raise dignity the moment families come onto our campus. I see them exit with a home, possessions, and a new start and they look different, they walk different.”

Some pleasant news to share. Since the initial interview with Johnson and Pettis, we've learned the couple and their children will be moving into their new home with help from Housing Families First.

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