February 27, 2023–OAKLAND, CA
The Merritt Scholars program expanded significantly in 2022 as part of Merritt’s Commitment to California. We are proud of our 2022-2023 cohort – our largest to date – and their dedication to learning and enthusiasm for affordable housing. We are excited for our Scholar Spotlight on Alexis Johnson, a dedicated Merritt Scholar living in San Diego studying for her MA in Clinical Mental Health at Midwestern State University.
Alexis is passionate about working in her community and addressing the ongoing housing crises and has worked in homeless shelters, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, rehoming, and many other areas working with low-income and unhoused individuals. Alexis is committed to improving her community, informed with her own lived experience with housing instability. “Being a part of a scholarship program with people like Merritt staff who care and want me to succeed is life changing for me. I’ve experienced homelessness and have had to take three jobs on at a time to support myself and my education.”
In her work, Alexis continually witnesses her clients struggle to find housing and remain housed, seeing a large gap between services and affordable housing. She gives clients support and connects them to supportive services, but securing housing is often the biggest barrier to their success and safety. She felt stuck in her work and this frustration is what drew Alexis into wanting to learn more about affordable housing.
Currently studying clinical mental health, Alexis is interested in program development and services tied to affordable housing programs so that she can better serve and support her clients. She sees the value of having a mental health background when working to get people housed. This background along with her own lived experience allows her to operate from a place of unique understanding for those in need of housing and the importance of wrap around, supportive services.
Alexis learned about the Merritt Scholars program at a conference and recognized the unique opportunity the scholarship offers. The mentorship aspect was especially exciting to her and the ability to attend affordable housing conferences, events, and network with leaders made her want to apply.
Learning more about affordable housing through Merritt Scholars opportunities, Alexis has acquired the vocabulary to speak to people in the varied areas of the housing industry, finding it incredibly helpful for her work. By understanding housing development and policy, she feels better prepared to be in the room with housing leaders and advocate for resources, always people-first in her approach.
Alexis credits her mentor as pivotal to her Merritt Scholars experience and feeling of success. AJ Galka is Director of Residential Services and Permanent Supportive Housing at National Community Renaissance. AJ has shown Alexis different aspects of affordable housing and the combination of housing and mental health via residential and permanent supportive housing. AJ has also introduced her to women and African American women in the industry. “It’s been really impactful to be connected with so many people I can relate with and talk about their experiences and learn from them,” said Alexis.
Through her time as a Merritt Scholar, Alexis is clear on her post-graduation career goals. She wants to grow from her position as a program coordinator and work her way up to director-level, making a regional and state-wide impact. Her goal is to be a speaker or panelist at housing and mental health conferences where she can highlight the connection between the two and educate peers while continuing to learn from other leaders.
Soaking up the knowledge sharing and making connections at conferences has changed Alexis’ perspective, having the ability to learn about the different moving pieces in affordable housing makes a big difference in understanding access to housing. She has noticed the importance of networking and showing her passion for her work. “I learned how important and powerful networking is. I’ve never had the opportunity or time before or been in the space to network until Merritt Scholars.”
Reflecting on her time as a Merritt Scholar, Alexis shared that, “I can tell that everyone at Merritt cares about and prioritizes the growth of the scholars, and the open-door policy creates steppingstones for hopeful future leaders. It feels good to be part of a program that connects us, mentors us, and cares about our future and what we want to do.”
Merritt is proud to support Alexis as a Merritt Scholar and we look forward to continuing to follow Alexis on her journey.
About Merritt Community Capital Corporation
Merritt Community Capital Corporation is a nonprofit dedicated to our mission to provide equity capital for affordable housing exclusively to California. We do this by partnering with mission-aligned affordable housing developers throughout the state to ensure the most critical communities are developed and maintained for low-income residents. Since 1989, Merritt has created and/or preserved 11,000 affordable homes, through investing over $1.2 billion in 26 separate funds, providing housing for over 29,700 people.