Erin Berthon

Erin Berthon, MA Career Manager, Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, at Chapman University

In the fall of 2010, Maia Cooper (’14) and Valerie Valdivia (’14) were randomly paired as roommates in Henley Hall at Chapman University. The two girls were polar opposites, with different backgrounds and different interests. Cooper was a History and French major, while Valdivia majored in Art. Although they went their separate ways after that first year at Chapman, they stayed in touch over the years and remained good friends.

Recently the two Wilkinson College alums reconnected and collaborated on a children’s book, Everybody Deserves a Home, a rhyming story for children with beautiful, bright illustrations about affordable housing matters.

“Valerie’s immense talent as an artist was clear from the moment I met her. Her art and creativity were like nothing I had ever seen before. I distinctly remember freshman year talking to Valerie and seeing how she took assignments from the classroom and made her art come to life. She always approached her artistic work with a fresh and unique perspective, and it was amazing to see the fantastic quality of her work,” said Cooper.

Staying connected with your peers (even those you aren’t that close with) after college could benefit you both, you never know when a collaboration is just around the corner (or in this case, different states).

I sat down to talk with Maia, who currently works for a Ohio-based housing developer to bring more affordable housing to new communities throughout America, about how the book came to be.

Erin Berthon: What was your inspiration for this book?

Maia Cooper: I was traveling a lot for work to communities that needed affordable housing. Through community organizing and working with cities to build affordable housing, I was encountering a lot of NIMBYism. The idea that individuals who live in affordable housing do not deserve to live in communities with good schools, parks and amenities was devastating to hear firsthand. It posed real obstacles to many of the developments on which I was working.

The truth was, community members were afraid. They were scared of who would be living in these communities, and where they came from. My job is to help them understand the real individuals who would live in affordable housing, and to advocate for these individuals who need a special place they can call home.

A lot of the negative sentiments come from miseducation about who lives in affordable housing, and deeply rooted stereotypes about the working poor. As I did this work, I started to think about the conversations about housing that begin at home. I thought about younger generations who may hear negative comments, and how could I help make a difference. That’s where the idea for Everyone Deserves A Home began.

EB: How did Valerie become involved in the project?

MC: During the pandemic, Valerie posted on her social media about work she did with illustrations, and shared that she was taking on new clients. I had a very short story on my iPhone inspired by my professional career in affordable housing, and I reached out to Valerie for her advice. She shared that she thought I had the start of something, and we agreed to do a round of sketches to help me just flesh out the story better and to see what I had. I was at a point where I felt the art would help me really decide if I had something worthwhile or if it was just a random collection of notes on my iPhone.

Valerie solicited my input on every aspect of the drawings, and really helped me bring my vision to life. Valerie even shared extremely helpful guidance on switching pages around and tailoring the story. We would communicate over even the smallest detail of a page, and made countless revisions. Valerie and I both have a keen attention to detail, and we would share new ideas to improve the illustrations so as to bring the story to life. The illustrations helped me better flesh out my story, and this kickstarted about two years of edits, changes, full scale illustrations, and engaging a publisher and editor to help improve the overall story, and to bring both of our visions to life.

EB: Is there a specific part of the book that sticks out to you more than others (maybe that you are especially proud of)?   

MC: I love the page that says “you’ll have lots of trees to climb, and no more gears or frights, only cozy corners and bright lights, plus a garden for all to play, and parks only a short walk away.”

This line embodies the work myself and my peers do everyday in this industry. Together we are a group of advocates who strive to build sustainable communities that are focused on connecting children and their families to areas in which they can thrive. As a child you want to live in a community with trees, parks, and gardens. And when my team and I look for areas to develop, this is exactly what we are looking for.

“Maia’s work reflects her embodiment of Chapman’s vision for students who rise to the world’s challenges. Her book Everybody Deserves a Home introduces young readers to the idea of accessible housing for everyone,” said Dr. Jan Osborn (English).

EB: What do you hope children will learn from your book? 

(Left to right:) Maia Cooper (’14) and Valerie Valdivia (’14) 2010.

MC: I hope children read the book and begin to think of ways to help individuals in their community struggling to find that special place they can call home. Whether it be donating items to a food pantry or volunteering with habitat to help build a home for those in need, there are so many ways to get involved and engaged in helping others from a young age. I hope this book begins important conversations at home that will help future generations better tackle these issues and come up with creative and innovative solutions to help all Americans find that special place they can call home.