As she sits in SFBFS’ Demonstration Garden, Yolanda mentions her great grandmother taught her to garden as a child. She hopes to be a homeowner someday, with a garden to grow greens for her own grandchildren.
Meeting Yolanda today, it’s hard to fathom the obstacles she once faced. Raised in the Bay Area, Yolanda’s childhood was family oriented and filled with cousins and siblings. At 16 she moved out on her own as a teen mom. She determinedly graduated from high school and worked for the Postal Service. Yolanda’s stability fell out from under her when she married young and her husband became abusive. Detached from her family as a result of domestic violence, her drug use spiraled into an addiction she couldn’t control. Yolanda was 24 years old, married to her abuser and struggling with addiction when her mother died. Shortly after, she was sentenced to eight years in prison as a consequence of her addiction.
Having worked on her recovery for years, Yolanda spent her first 90 days out of prison in a drug and alcohol treatment center where she discovered the benefits of volunteering. Connecting with the organization as a client, Yolanda began volunteering with Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH), providing survivor-led peer support and harms reduction services for victims of sexual violence. The nonprofit, just around the corner from SFBFS’ Oak Park campus, eventually hired her as an Administrative Peer Specialist.
Yolanda encourages the women she works with at CASH to take steps to improve their lives and utilize free resources. She regularly recommends SFBFS’ clothing program, GED tutoring and ESL classes to the women she mentors. “I don’t recommend anything I can’t use myself,” she notes, acknowledging healing herself enables her to support others.
Taking her own recommendation, Yolanda began regularly attending classes in SFBFS’ Adult Education program. She graduated from the Computer Basics, Beyond Basics and Microsoft Office classes, acquiring skills in cloud computing and Excel. Thoughtfully, she says “Today, I can make a difference, even if it’s just with one person and that person is me”. With her new skills, Yolanda was offered a promotion and raise at her job! Certificates of accomplishment from SFBFS’ computer classes are proudly displayed on her desk at work, motivating her clients to strive toward their goals too.
SFBFS staff have been approached by Yolanda’s coworkers at career fairs who are so impressed by her extensive skill set. Career Development & Technology Manager Shay Smith says “We need more Yolandas in the world.” We need more people who recognize in order to move forward we must continue learning. A symbol of hope, Yolanda is open with her peers about what she’s learning, inviting others to improve their skills without shame.
SFBFS welcomes people of all backgrounds and experiences into our work. Yolanda feels respected and comfortable in her adult education classes because staff and volunteers are patient with everyone’s learning levels. Inspired by success in her computer classes, Yolanda looks forward to working on an associate’s degree in psychology. She dreams of someday running a transitional housing facility for people with children.
Yolanda was awarded a scholarship to attend the week-long Crimes Against Women conference in Dallas, Texas. With her first long plane ride and her own hotel suite, the opportunity to attend the conference is a dream come true. When considering the advice she’d give to community members in her circumstances from years ago, she says simply, “Just never give up.”
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services