Notes

I grew up in northeast Ohio.  It’s a beautiful place, with Lake Erie to the north, rolling farmland all around, and some great cities nearby.  Some of my friends from school were wealthy and some were a layoff-from-the-factory or an emergency-room-visit away from not being able to make rent. It always seemed unfair that it should be this way; I was growing up in the American heartland – the land of opportunity. The truth was that not everyone had equal opportunities.
Throughout college, I became more engaged in issues of economic development, and afterward, I moved to South Texas to be a Teach For America corps member to fight poverty in the classroom. I firmly believe that the best economic stimulus is a diploma and a degree. 
After teaching a few years, I moved to the Bay Area to continue working in education. San Francisco always seemed like a shining, near-perfect city. And with one of the best public universities nearby in Berkeley, surely, I thought, the Bay Area would be different.  What I found was, it wasn’t.
Beneath the stunning views from the hills in the East Bay, and the fog in San Francisco, there are many people struggling. 
I wanted to apply my skills as a teacher to help fight poverty for the next generation. I found Spark, and instantly applied for a job.
Spark is a national nonprofit that creates apprenticeships to bring underserved middle school students out of the classroom and into the workplace for individualized mentoring that results in educational success and powerful career ambitions. The program targets underserved middle school students who show academic and behavioral warning signs linked to a risk of later dropping out. We try to catch students before the thought of dropping out crosses their minds by asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  We get a variety of answers: police officer, hairdresser, video game designer, fireworks technician (my personal favorite), among many others. Spark matches students with mentors in career fields that interest them (and of course we take safety into account, so no, the student was not placed with a fireworks technician) for a 10-week apprenticeship.
Spark recognizes a clear need and opportunity for the apprenticeship model to foster deep, lasting impact. For example, Oakland has one of the highest violent crime rates in the U.S., with rates of youth gang involvement above county and state levels. One in five residents live below the poverty line, and youth account for nearly half of the city’s food bank clients. Only 46% of Oakland youth go to college. Such challenges are unevenly distributed by socioeconomic status and race, with predominantly low-income, minority areas in West and East Oakland bearing the greatest stress. 
By partnering with schools serving these high-need neighborhoods, Spark reaches youth potentially cut off from people, places, and experiences that can inspire them to commit to school as a path to a positive future.
A mentor is one small part of the fight against poverty, but small things can go a long way for a 13 year old.  If you’re interested in supporting Spark and inspiring the next generation, check out our volunteer page or donate here.

I grew up in northeast Ohio.  It’s a beautiful place, with Lake Erie to the north, rolling farmland all around, and some great cities nearby.  Some of my friends from school were wealthy and some were a layoff-from-the-factory or an emergency-room-visit away from not being able to make rent. It always seemed unfair that it should be this way; I was growing up in the American heartland – the land of opportunity. The truth was that not everyone had equal opportunities.

Throughout college, I became more engaged in issues of economic development, and afterward, I moved to South Texas to be a Teach For America corps member to fight poverty in the classroom. I firmly believe that the best economic stimulus is a diploma and a degree. 

After teaching a few years, I moved to the Bay Area to continue working in education. San Francisco always seemed like a shining, near-perfect city. And with one of the best public universities nearby in Berkeley, surely, I thought, the Bay Area would be different.  What I found was, it wasn’t.

Beneath the stunning views from the hills in the East Bay, and the fog in San Francisco, there are many people struggling. 

I wanted to apply my skills as a teacher to help fight poverty for the next generation. I found Spark, and instantly applied for a job.

Spark is a national nonprofit that creates apprenticeships to bring underserved middle school students out of the classroom and into the workplace for individualized mentoring that results in educational success and powerful career ambitions. The program targets underserved middle school students who show academic and behavioral warning signs linked to a risk of later dropping out. We try to catch students before the thought of dropping out crosses their minds by asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  We get a variety of answers: police officer, hairdresser, video game designer, fireworks technician (my personal favorite), among many others. Spark matches students with mentors in career fields that interest them (and of course we take safety into account, so no, the student was not placed with a fireworks technician) for a 10-week apprenticeship.

Spark recognizes a clear need and opportunity for the apprenticeship model to foster deep, lasting impact. For example, Oakland has one of the highest violent crime rates in the U.S., with rates of youth gang involvement above county and state levels. One in five residents live below the poverty line, and youth account for nearly half of the city’s food bank clients. Only 46% of Oakland youth go to college. Such challenges are unevenly distributed by socioeconomic status and race, with predominantly low-income, minority areas in West and East Oakland bearing the greatest stress. 

By partnering with schools serving these high-need neighborhoods, Spark reaches youth potentially cut off from people, places, and experiences that can inspire them to commit to school as a path to a positive future.

A mentor is one small part of the fight against poverty, but small things can go a long way for a 13 year old.  If you’re interested in supporting Spark and inspiring the next generation, check out our volunteer page or donate here.

Notes

I remember at ten or eleven years old when I was going to Robert Fulton Elementary School. The days were so tiring because I got up every morning hungry. I had five brothers and two sisters. We’d all look into empty cabinets, hoping that our mother had bought something during the night. It was wishful thinking. Our father, a Navy man, would drink all the money up so by mid-month we’d be a starving family. My mother would take the bus to other-land, a place foreign to us, to clean someone’s house for pennies. With that money Mother would buy oatmeal, rice and beans. Once in a while she’d treat us with hamburger meat, mixing the beans and rice, adding a special Southern-style seasoning. We’d eat good about twice a month. Mother would never talk about her work. She only cared about feeding her children. I could see disdain in my mother’s eyes each time my father came home drunk, pockets empty. But Mother loved Father. She’d never leave him, only fight his wastefulness.
Once in a while at school, I’d look into the cafeteria—face agog—staring at the trays full of food. My mind going back to the pictures I lusted over in newspapers and magazines, wondering what those beautiful cheeseburgers tasted like. My stomach would hurt all the time, until I just got used to it. I wouldn’t play as much, knowing that too much exertion would bring on hunger and weaken me. My studies suffered and my concentration lacked in this constant struggle of wanting. I forgot about all other materialistic lures, like fine clothes and fancy toys, not caring about having to wear the same clothes two or three times a week, or never having a bicycle to ride. It wasn’t until 14 or 15 did I realize I could do something about being hungry. I searched for work. Push-mowers cut grass. Brooms swept parking lots. Newspaper subscriptions were sold door-to-door. Donuts and sodas were stuffed inside. At first I cured only my hunger. But my conscience forced my brothers, sisters and mother into my mind. I worked hard for pennies, only to do the opposite of what most little boys did. I didn’t go into my mother’s purse, seeking the loose change she may have forgotten. I put dollars and cents into her change purse when she asked me to get her purse for her. Mother knew what I was doing, but I felt the excitement each time she opened her little black change purse, gave me a few quarters, writing a note to Mr. Meshack, asking him to sell me a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. This was my favorite chore, to appease my mother’s taste for tobacco.She’d sit on the old green recliner, smoking a cigarette, and ask me to rub her feet or scratch her itching scalp. I knew it was her only pleasure in the world in those dark days of poverty, so I gladly did these things for my mother.Juan Haines is an inmate at San Quentin State Prison. He is Managing Editor of the San Quentin News and works as a jailhouse attorney. (Photo by Peter Merts)

I remember at ten or eleven years old when I was going to Robert Fulton Elementary School. The days were so tiring because I got up every morning hungry. I had five brothers and two sisters. We’d all look into empty cabinets, hoping that our mother had bought something during the night. It was wishful thinking. Our father, a Navy man, would drink all the money up so by mid-month we’d be a starving family. My mother would take the bus to other-land, a place foreign to us, to clean someone’s house for pennies. With that money Mother would buy oatmeal, rice and beans. Once in a while she’d treat us with hamburger meat, mixing the beans and rice, adding a special Southern-style seasoning. We’d eat good about twice a month. Mother would never talk about her work. She only cared about feeding her children. I could see disdain in my mother’s eyes each time my father came home drunk, pockets empty. But Mother loved Father. She’d never leave him, only fight his wastefulness.

Once in a while at school, I’d look into the cafeteria—face agog—staring at the trays full of food. My mind going back to the pictures I lusted over in newspapers and magazines, wondering what those beautiful cheeseburgers tasted like. My stomach would hurt all the time, until I just got used to it. I wouldn’t play as much, knowing that too much exertion would bring on hunger and weaken me. My studies suffered and my concentration lacked in this constant struggle of wanting. I forgot about all other materialistic lures, like fine clothes and fancy toys, not caring about having to wear the same clothes two or three times a week, or never having a bicycle to ride. It wasn’t until 14 or 15 did I realize I could do something about being hungry. I searched for work. Push-mowers cut grass. Brooms swept parking lots. Newspaper subscriptions were sold door-to-door. Donuts and sodas were stuffed inside. At first I cured only my hunger. But my conscience forced my brothers, sisters and mother into my mind. I worked hard for pennies, only to do the opposite of what most little boys did. I didn’t go into my mother’s purse, seeking the loose change she may have forgotten. I put dollars and cents into her change purse when she asked me to get her purse for her. Mother knew what I was doing, but I felt the excitement each time she opened her little black change purse, gave me a few quarters, writing a note to Mr. Meshack, asking him to sell me a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. This was my favorite chore, to appease my mother’s taste for tobacco.She’d sit on the old green recliner, smoking a cigarette, and ask me to rub her feet or scratch her itching scalp. I knew it was her only pleasure in the world in those dark days of poverty, so I gladly did these things for my mother.

Juan Haines is an inmate at San Quentin State Prison. He is Managing Editor of the San Quentin News and works as a jailhouse attorney. (Photo by Peter Merts)

Notes

I was raised in a lower middle class family where I was always taken care of. One turning point in my life was when I was 24 years old and I got a job working with the War on Poverty initiative; I was an administrative assistant of the executive director. It was an extraordinary team and eventually they moved me into a bigger job, where I was exposed to a lot of things that were so different from my upbringing. 
I worked my whole life, and had raised a son, but when the financial crash happened in 2008 my business wasn’t making enough, and I was losing all of my clients because they couldn’t afford it. I was in my sixties and had to start renting out my house just to make rent. I spent years trying to scrape up rent and pay my bills, it was the most stressful time of my life. I was going to Trader Joes to eat their free food because I couldn’t afford to buy my own, and didn’t want to tell anyone I needed help. Eventually I had to leave my house because I just could not afford it. 
I was fortunate enough to have great friends and never had to stay on the street. I also had a computer, and I applied for every single low-income housing program I could find in five states. That’s how I came to Curry Center. It’s in the Tenderloin but I was told it was still very comfortable and nice. I met every week with my case manager who ended up helping me get into Edith Witt Senior Community, where I live now.

While coming to the Curry Center I saw the differences between many of the residents and me. After getting into Edith Witt, I got a call from my case manager at the Curry Center asking to be their client representation on their board. I had put together a community program for a corporation, so I had the experience needed. After being on the board for a while, I was eventually asked to chair their development committee. Now I try to come often and give back to the center.

I was raised in a lower middle class family where I was always taken care of. One turning point in my life was when I was 24 years old and I got a job working with the War on Poverty initiative; I was an administrative assistant of the executive director. It was an extraordinary team and eventually they moved me into a bigger job, where I was exposed to a lot of things that were so different from my upbringing.

I worked my whole life, and had raised a son, but when the financial crash happened in 2008 my business wasn’t making enough, and I was losing all of my clients because they couldn’t afford it. I was in my sixties and had to start renting out my house just to make rent. I spent years trying to scrape up rent and pay my bills, it was the most stressful time of my life. I was going to Trader Joes to eat their free food because I couldn’t afford to buy my own, and didn’t want to tell anyone I needed help. Eventually I had to leave my house because I just could not afford it.

I was fortunate enough to have great friends and never had to stay on the street. I also had a computer, and I applied for every single low-income housing program I could find in five states. That’s how I came to Curry Center. It’s in the Tenderloin but I was told it was still very comfortable and nice. I met every week with my case manager who ended up helping me get into Edith Witt Senior Community, where I live now.

While coming to the Curry Center I saw the differences between many of the residents and me. After getting into Edith Witt, I got a call from my case manager at the Curry Center asking to be their client representation on their board. I had put together a community program for a corporation, so I had the experience needed. After being on the board for a while, I was eventually asked to chair their development committee. Now I try to come often and give back to the center.

Notes

I was always told growing up that I could achieve anything I put my mind to and that hard work was rewarded.  I grew up in a solidly middle class family, very conservative, who explicitly instilled the idea that those who are poor are to blame for their situation, and that those “welfare moms” are lazy and just taking advantage of those who work and pay too damn many taxes to support them and their kids.  I don’t think I ever really believed in that, and I always suspected that it was a point of view lacking in compassion, but it didn’t stop me from feeling like a failure when I filled out my paperwork as a recently single mother to try to get food stamps, health care, and some help covering living costs for myself and my daughter.  My biological family doesn’t know the extent of my struggles and the realities I face trying to make ends meet and get ourselves to a place of simple security, although conversations have hinted that they believe I am lazy and using the system to avoid responsibility - for what, I don’t know.
The truth is, my family is in denial.  This denial is deeply rooted, and is a big part of why I became poor in the first place.  I am college educated, even studied at UC Berkeley, and had a dream of being an archaeologist when I was younger and even found work doing just that.  But two things shaped the course of the next decade of my life: I was struggling financially as an archaeologist because the work was not high paying and my family convinced me that it was time for me to pursue a more practical career; and I suffered from an illness that ran in my family, but was denied and hidden from me and especially the outside world - alcoholism.  So I got a “good” job with a career path that did absolutely nothing to nurture my inner self and concerned myself with the pursuit of money and drank to both feel good and numb bad feelings, and my life slowly and inevitably trickled into a crushing bottom that almost cost me my life and my daughter two years ago.  Getting healthy cost me my high paying job, and made me realize that I deserve a life that is both spiritually and intellectually fulfilling, and economically secure.
Today I am sober, healthy, and have a strong relationship with my daughter and a supportive community of “adopted” family, but I struggle to make ends meet, and I take advantage of social welfare programs to help me make sure that my daughter and I always have healthy food to eat and that she and I can both try as much as possible to focus not just on surviving, but on living and growing as she starts Kindergarten and I try to rebuild a life of meaning by finishing up my bachelor’s degree and moving on to get my MFA and build a jewelry design business.  I work sometimes as many as three jobs, always having to take lower wages than I am qualified for to have the flexibility in hours that I need to meet my daughter’s school schedule and my own school schedule, and take advantage of state-subsidized lunches and after school programs because none of my jobs pay enough to pay a babysitter.  I also volunteer in my community, spending at least 20 hours a month donating my time to helping others.  Despite this, I still miss meals to make sure that my daughter has enough, I still walk miles from place to place to save on transit costs, I need dental care that I can’t afford because Medi-Cal only covers so much, and know that any emergency would not be a small setback.  However, I am hopeful that our world is changing, and that we are going to as a nation and world start to destroy the stigma attached to poverty and establish the foundation that ensuring that people’s basic needs for survival and comfort is a fundamental human right and that we are obligated to work together to help each other achieve this.  We are all connected and through love and compassion can build a better, more prosperous and fulling, society for ALL of us.

I was always told growing up that I could achieve anything I put my mind to and that hard work was rewarded.  I grew up in a solidly middle class family, very conservative, who explicitly instilled the idea that those who are poor are to blame for their situation, and that those “welfare moms” are lazy and just taking advantage of those who work and pay too damn many taxes to support them and their kids.  I don’t think I ever really believed in that, and I always suspected that it was a point of view lacking in compassion, but it didn’t stop me from feeling like a failure when I filled out my paperwork as a recently single mother to try to get food stamps, health care, and some help covering living costs for myself and my daughter.  My biological family doesn’t know the extent of my struggles and the realities I face trying to make ends meet and get ourselves to a place of simple security, although conversations have hinted that they believe I am lazy and using the system to avoid responsibility - for what, I don’t know.

The truth is, my family is in denial.  This denial is deeply rooted, and is a big part of why I became poor in the first place.  I am college educated, even studied at UC Berkeley, and had a dream of being an archaeologist when I was younger and even found work doing just that.  But two things shaped the course of the next decade of my life: I was struggling financially as an archaeologist because the work was not high paying and my family convinced me that it was time for me to pursue a more practical career; and I suffered from an illness that ran in my family, but was denied and hidden from me and especially the outside world - alcoholism.  So I got a “good” job with a career path that did absolutely nothing to nurture my inner self and concerned myself with the pursuit of money and drank to both feel good and numb bad feelings, and my life slowly and inevitably trickled into a crushing bottom that almost cost me my life and my daughter two years ago.  Getting healthy cost me my high paying job, and made me realize that I deserve a life that is both spiritually and intellectually fulfilling, and economically secure.

Today I am sober, healthy, and have a strong relationship with my daughter and a supportive community of “adopted” family, but I struggle to make ends meet, and I take advantage of social welfare programs to help me make sure that my daughter and I always have healthy food to eat and that she and I can both try as much as possible to focus not just on surviving, but on living and growing as she starts Kindergarten and I try to rebuild a life of meaning by finishing up my bachelor’s degree and moving on to get my MFA and build a jewelry design business.  I work sometimes as many as three jobs, always having to take lower wages than I am qualified for to have the flexibility in hours that I need to meet my daughter’s school schedule and my own school schedule, and take advantage of state-subsidized lunches and after school programs because none of my jobs pay enough to pay a babysitter.  I also volunteer in my community, spending at least 20 hours a month donating my time to helping others.  Despite this, I still miss meals to make sure that my daughter has enough, I still walk miles from place to place to save on transit costs, I need dental care that I can’t afford because Medi-Cal only covers so much, and know that any emergency would not be a small setback.  However, I am hopeful that our world is changing, and that we are going to as a nation and world start to destroy the stigma attached to poverty and establish the foundation that ensuring that people’s basic needs for survival and comfort is a fundamental human right and that we are obligated to work together to help each other achieve this.  We are all connected and through love and compassion can build a better, more prosperous and fulling, society for ALL of us.

Notes

My father left when I was young. My mother never could get great work, but she always had a job and as long as I could remember worked hard. One day in high school I woke up and she had packed her bags. She had made me breakfast, but told me she was leaving and that I wasn’t coming. That we were being kicked out of our apartment that day. That was it.
I slept on couches at friends’ houses. I still went to school for a bit, but I was 16 and didn’t have to go any more. Eventually I just stopped, and nobody really said anything. Now I work at a call center making minimum wage, I wish I had stayed in school. I realize that I’ve been in poor for a long time now, but now that friends are getting better work I realize my mom leaving and me leaving school was when I first really fell into poverty.

My father left when I was young. My mother never could get great work, but she always had a job and as long as I could remember worked hard. One day in high school I woke up and she had packed her bags. She had made me breakfast, but told me she was leaving and that I wasn’t coming. That we were being kicked out of our apartment that day. That was it.

I slept on couches at friends’ houses. I still went to school for a bit, but I was 16 and didn’t have to go any more. Eventually I just stopped, and nobody really said anything. Now I work at a call center making minimum wage, I wish I had stayed in school. I realize that I’ve been in poor for a long time now, but now that friends are getting better work I realize my mom leaving and me leaving school was when I first really fell into poverty.

Notes

I knew I was poor when I discovered I was the only kid in my school living out of a motel room with my entire family.

I knew I was poor when I discovered I was the only kid in my school living out of a motel room with my entire family.

Notes

Although both of my parents grew up in poverty, they had worked really hard to change their lives and I grew up in a very white, middle class area. I didn’t really see poverty around, so I didn’t really understand why my parents, and my uncles all sent ten percent of their income home to India. Later I found out it went to support my family there, to make sure that they were ok.
 
My parents always gave so much, without ever expecting anything back, so when the 2004 tsunami hit, I decided to volunteer for Aid Camps International. I saw the devastation on the news, and my family in India was also affected, so I went with 15 strangers to Sri Lanka for two months to try and help. Collectively we had raised $50,000 to build a school there, I raised ten thousand of that from my community alone.
 
So many of the buildings there were simple straw shelters so everything and anything had been washed away in the tsunami. Many kids became orphans and experienced terrible things like losing limbs. There were so few places left for these kids, so we wanted a building to not just be a school but a community space, a safe space. 
 
The money went to making the school, the bricks, the foundation, but also to local NGOs and the government in the region to support it for the long term, to make sure it was sustainable. The school needed to be more than just a building, it needed staff, after-care, computers, staff, everything a school needs, and we wanted to make sure that all still happened after we were gone. 
 
The most enriching part was getting to know the kids and some of the families in the area. Seeing one child who lost a leg from the tsunami go through physical therapy and slowly learn to walk again all directly from the money we raised was amazing. I had never realized how much poverty affected people until seeing what difference some support could make while I was there.
 
Since then the organization has gone out and added to the foundation of the school, and it is now three story building. The projected as excelled, in that it has become a bigger and safer space. It is now a place to go for the whole community, and the children recognize it as a place of hope, that we didn’t leave them deserted when we left.
Although both of my parents grew up in poverty, they had worked really hard to change their lives and I grew up in a very white, middle class area. I didn’t really see poverty around, so I didn’t really understand why my parents, and my uncles all sent ten percent of their income home to India. Later I found out it went to support my family there, to make sure that they were ok.
 
My parents always gave so much, without ever expecting anything back, so when the 2004 tsunami hit, I decided to volunteer for Aid Camps International. I saw the devastation on the news, and my family in India was also affected, so I went with 15 strangers to Sri Lanka for two months to try and help. Collectively we had raised $50,000 to build a school there, I raised ten thousand of that from my community alone.
 
So many of the buildings there were simple straw shelters so everything and anything had been washed away in the tsunami. Many kids became orphans and experienced terrible things like losing limbs. There were so few places left for these kids, so we wanted a building to not just be a school but a community space, a safe space.
 
The money went to making the school, the bricks, the foundation, but also to local NGOs and the government in the region to support it for the long term, to make sure it was sustainable. The school needed to be more than just a building, it needed staff, after-care, computers, staff, everything a school needs, and we wanted to make sure that all still happened after we were gone.
 
The most enriching part was getting to know the kids and some of the families in the area. Seeing one child who lost a leg from the tsunami go through physical therapy and slowly learn to walk again all directly from the money we raised was amazing. I had never realized how much poverty affected people until seeing what difference some support could make while I was there.
 
Since then the organization has gone out and added to the foundation of the school, and it is now three story building. The projected as excelled, in that it has become a bigger and safer space. It is now a place to go for the whole community, and the children recognize it as a place of hope, that we didn’t leave them deserted when we left.

Notes

I grew up in public housing here in San Francisco, where I was born and raised, and the presence of poverty was every day. The stark contrast between those who had and those of us who didn’t was present most days. 
The first time I noticed it was when I was in elementary school. I attended a school in the Marina District of the city, which is a more affluent part of the city, so it was very evident that my classmates had more; they had nicer closes and the cars they were dropped off in were nicer, while I was on the school bus. That same experience continued in high school when I went to Lowell High School where there were many affluent families from private schools and kids were driving themselves into school in very nice cars.

The biggest, most stinging moment, was when I was 14 or 15 years old and had just gotten a summer job with the city’s youth summer job program, where ironically I was working at the department of social services. About two weeks into the job I received a call from the administrative office of the program. My assumption was that it was just for a check in or a training, when in fact what it turned out to be was their notification to me that I could no longer work because my mother made too much money.

I could not understand in that moment how that was even remotely possible that my mother, who was doing her best to provide for us and living in public housing and struggling to make ends meet; how she made too much money.

I literally walked and cried all the way home. That was probably the most painful moment. Where in this system that was designed to help those in need was in my case contradicting itself. That was my real “Aha moment,” in this case for the need of systemic change. Clearly my mother had need, but this program that was designed to help those like me in this instance could not, and did not.

I grew up in public housing here in San Francisco, where I was born and raised, and the presence of poverty was every day. The stark contrast between those who had and those of us who didn’t was present most days. 

The first time I noticed it was when I was in elementary school. I attended a school in the Marina District of the city, which is a more affluent part of the city, so it was very evident that my classmates had more; they had nicer closes and the cars they were dropped off in were nicer, while I was on the school bus. That same experience continued in high school when I went to Lowell High School where there were many affluent families from private schools and kids were driving themselves into school in very nice cars.

The biggest, most stinging moment, was when I was 14 or 15 years old and had just gotten a summer job with the city’s youth summer job program, where ironically I was working at the department of social services. About two weeks into the job I received a call from the administrative office of the program. My assumption was that it was just for a check in or a training, when in fact what it turned out to be was their notification to me that I could no longer work because my mother made too much money.

I could not understand in that moment how that was even remotely possible that my mother, who was doing her best to provide for us and living in public housing and struggling to make ends meet; how she made too much money.

I literally walked and cried all the way home. That was probably the most painful moment. Where in this system that was designed to help those in need was in my case contradicting itself. That was my real “Aha moment,” in this case for the need of systemic change. Clearly my mother had need, but this program that was designed to help those like me in this instance could not, and did not.

Notes

It hit me that poverty is not OK when I found out one of my friends was homeless.

It hit me that poverty is not OK when I found out one of my friends was homeless.

Notes

I was born in St. Louis to a black dad and a Japanese mom who both worked full time. You know, growing up, when I needed something I got it. When my parents separated in 1971 my mom and I moved out here to San Francisco.
I went to Lowell High School here and almost finished city college. I was told I had enough credits to graduate, but when I didn’t I just dropped out. I was already working two jobs, and had a daughter at the time, but I fell into drug addiction. I was a crack addict, and ended up in the Sunnyvale projects after living with friends and my mom’s house for a while. It was a terrible and dangerous place to live.  Child Protection Services took my daughter into foster care, and I was feeling so sorry for myself. I had worked for 13 years, but took an early leave, and tried to get her back. I couldn’t get into a residential treatment program for my addiction because I had to work to pay for my housing. Eventually I got a job at St. Anthony’s and another at a bus company. I was laid off there after 12 years. It was hard.
After looking for months, I finally I got work at Project Open Hand next door. It wasn’t enough hours, so I had to get another job at the reception desk here at the Curry Center. After a month I got a raise and started full time here as an outreach worker. Working in shelters you see someone hungry all the time, you see it all.

I’ve gone through so many things; the most important thing to say to people in poverty is that they are not alone. Don’t give up. Find someone you trust and get guidance. Now I have 17 years sober, my own little room, and two kids.

I was born in St. Louis to a black dad and a Japanese mom who both worked full time. You know, growing up, when I needed something I got it. When my parents separated in 1971 my mom and I moved out here to San Francisco.

I went to Lowell High School here and almost finished city college. I was told I had enough credits to graduate, but when I didn’t I just dropped out. I was already working two jobs, and had a daughter at the time, but I fell into drug addiction. I was a crack addict, and ended up in the Sunnyvale projects after living with friends and my mom’s house for a while. It was a terrible and dangerous place to live.

Child Protection Services took my daughter into foster care, and I was feeling so sorry for myself. I had worked for 13 years, but took an early leave, and tried to get her back. I couldn’t get into a residential treatment program for my addiction because I had to work to pay for my housing. Eventually I got a job at St. Anthony’s and another at a bus company. I was laid off there after 12 years. It was hard.

After looking for months, I finally I got work at Project Open Hand next door. It wasn’t enough hours, so I had to get another job at the reception desk here at the Curry Center. After a month I got a raise and started full time here as an outreach worker. Working in shelters you see someone hungry all the time, you see it all.

I’ve gone through so many things; the most important thing to say to people in poverty is that they are not alone. Don’t give up. Find someone you trust and get guidance. Now I have 17 years sober, my own little room, and two kids.