RICHMOND, Va. -- Zarina Fazaldin was not born in Virginia, but she has dedicated much of her adult life to making Richmond a better place to call home.
She has done that by helping others and, in part, by rehabbing old city properties.
Fazaldin moved to Central Virginia from Africa as a teenager to pursue the American Dream.
"A lot can happen if you put your heart in it, you stay focused, and you work hard," she said.
With that mentality, Fazaldin earned a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. She started her first career in social services helping mothers with child support. Then she switched jobs to make an impact at the Virginia Department of Correctional Education where she excelled as a special education teacher.
"I was Teacher of the Year," she said.
In 2001, with savings from her teacher's salary, Fazaldin purchased her first home in Richmond's historic Woodland Heights District. It was a major restoration project.
"It was a 5,000 square feet building, and then four different apartments, and my dream was to stay in one of the apartments and rent the other four," she said. "Since it was so successful I decided to go ahead and restore homes next to my home."
Her new home inspired a new career and the beginning of Z&L Historic LLC.
For over two decades, Fazaldin has been in the business of strengthening communities and preserving Richmond's history. She's rehabbed nearly 30 properties in the Woodland Heights, Jackson Ward, and Carver communities.
"We've sold some and some we are renting and I own some," she said. "When we restore, we restore to the original architectural design. We don't change the outside and inside too much. We do have modern kitchens and modern bathrooms, but we keep the floors, the windows, the doors, original."
Her work has earned her recognition in newspapers and magazines.
A home on James Street in Jackson Ward has been her favorite project so far. It was built in 1915 and left abandoned in the late 1970s.
Everyone had given up on the property, but not Fazaldin.
"People were afraid, but I fell in love with it," she said. "It was huge and there is an emotional attachment to it."
Built for Dr. William Henry Hughes, a prominent Black doctor in the 1900s, the home was designed by one of Virginia's first African American architects.
In the 1950s, Dr. Hughes donated the building to Commonwealth to serve as Virginia's first African American school for the blind.
The history is sentimental and even personal for Fazaldin who purchased the home after a health scare.
"When I came to look at it and learned the history of Dr. William Hughes himself and the blind school, at the same time, I was also informed that I was going to go blind by my doctor, so it was very emotional," she said. "I felt like I wanted to save the building and thought, maybe I can live on this one floor, and I was excited because I thought it was historical, being blind, living in the blind school, the only blind school for African Americans."
She later learned, after getting a second and third opinion from different doctors, that she would not lose her sight.
While relieved, she still plans to live in this house, her favorite project, which earned her Richmond's coveted Golden Hammer Award.
"I was surprised because we were competing with six or seven other major developers," she said.
She said the Hughes home will be her final rehabilitation project.
"I'm planning to move in a different direction. I don't know many details right now," she said.
No matter the direction her new journey takes her, Fazaldin said you can be sure it will involve helping other people.
"Always, always have to do with helping people," she said. "This is a true American Dream."
Watch Candace Burns' "Our RVA" reports Wednesdays on CBS 6 News at 4 and 6 p.m. If you know someone Candace should feature, email her at Candace.Burns@wtvr.com.
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