As a Jesuit Volunteer at Women’s Empowerment, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many women who have completed our program. I find myself constantly humbled by the barriers they have overcome, and I am always aware of a sense of gratitude for my own loving family.
Last week, I had a conversation with a former student named Cheryl.
Cheryl spoke about how an addiction to crack cocaine had robbed her of her chance to be a mother for her kids. At first, “I was taking care of them, but I wasn’t taking care of them,” says Cheryl. “They had food on the table and a roof over their head, but Mama wasn’t really there.” Before long, she lost her home and her children.
Cheryl enrolled at Women’s Empowerment at the beginning of her long road to recovery, because she knew she would need a strong support system to sustain her. For the first time, she was able to work with a social worker to process the trauma of a decade of living on the streets. She found strength in solidarity with women who struggled just like she did. She learned how to use a computer and she signed up for an e-mail account. She still relies on those basic skills she learned in class. After completing our eight-week program, she followed the advice of her volunteer mentor and enrolled at the Fremont Adult School. From there, she joined the Sacramento Urban League. Cheryl now lives in stable housing, works at Mary House, and comes in a few times a week to catch up on e-mails, communicating regularly with the teachers at her son’s school.
To me, Cheryl’s story is a reminder that poverty’s stubborn and multi-faceted components can be overcome through attention from all angles. Success comes when individuals make changes within themselves, when community members support those individuals through donations and volunteering, and when non-profits maintain healthy partnerships.
On the day I spoke with Cheryl, her daughter was attending an orientation to enroll in the next Women’s Empowerment session. Her daughter stays with Cheryl on some days and on the couch of a friend’s aunt on other days. She doesn’t use drugs, and really wants to find a job and a stable home. Cheryl is happy to be a positive presence in her daughter’s life once again.
At Women’s Empowerment, the stories of the women I meet infuse perspective into my days. I experience a constant and unmistakable gratitude for my upbringing in a loving, supportive family.
I try, then, to “give back,” as they say… But I always encounter this road block: every time I think to make a sacrifice – giving up time, energy, money, attention, possessions – the situation at hand takes control and lifts me up, with the result that I have not, in fact, sacrificed anything. My heart actually grows like the grinch’s, three sizes or more!
Becky is a recent college graduate spending this year as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working full-time for Women’s Empowerment, a job-readiness program for women who are homeless.