The Jounou Family Story: “Mashallah”

“Mashallah”—an Arabic phrase used to express a feeling of awe or beauty regarding an event that means “what God has willed has happened”

You may remember the Jounou family: mother Hanifa (age 65), her sister, Aisha (57), Hanifa’s two daughters, Radi (35) and Bana (28), and her two sons, Hamid (33) and Yussef (27). (Hanifa’s husband died in 2009.) In 2013, the family fled war-torn Syria and spent six years in a refugee camp in Lebanon, where they devoted their time to helping settle other refugee families, before moving to the United States in 2019.

We first shared their story not long after they arrived in Lafayette to live with their sponsor, Kathy, who met the family on a mission trip to Lebanon in 2016. Here’s a brief recap and update on the progress they’ve made in just three short years.

The Jounous were referred to Sister Carmen because we have an Advocate, Zoya, who is fluent in Arabic. She was able to connect with the family not only through language, but also on a community and cultural level. She helped them find an Arabic-speaking church in Aurora and also enrolled them in English classes. Within weeks of being in the United States, the four adult children had all secured Green Cards and found jobs: one at King Soopers, one at The Home Depot, one in housekeeping, and one in a restaurant.

Bana recalls meeting Zoya for the first time at Sister Carmen Community Center, “We immediately felt at peace after being interviewed by Zoya in our own language. We knew we could trust her. She has been a blessing to our family ever since.”

The Jounous’ House

In the beginning, Zoya assisted the family by serving as their interpreter while tackling the tasks of being a newcomer—like opening a bank account, applying for a job, and getting a learner’s permit to drive. When generous donors wanted to give a used minivan to a Sister Carmen family in need, she knew just the one to recommend. The hardworking Jounous are more independent these days, but Zoya remains a trusted resource. About a year ago, they saved enough money for a down payment and bought a house in Erie. They sought Zoya’s approval prior to making the purchase.

She has truly become a part of their extended family, and their family is growing! This past March, Bana married an American she met while working at King Soopers. Zoya was at the wedding of course, beaming like a proud Auntie. Hamid also married in November of 2021 in Iraq. He filed the paperwork to bring his wife to the United States eight months ago and checks his application status online every day, hoping for progress.

When asked why they wanted to share their story, Hamid gave two main reasons: “We want to encourage other refugees, let them know that America is still a land of opportunity, that people are nice and welcoming. And we want to make a good example of what refugees can be: hard-working, learning English, and striving for a better life here.”

“Auntie Zoya” at Bana’s wedding

Hanifa’s four children all hope to become U.S. citizens one day. For now, they are focused on improving their English. They look forward to studying business and perhaps starting businesses of their own—Yussef as a photographer, and Bana and Radi as restaurant owners.

Three years ago, feeling desperate and alone as a refugee in a new country, Bana often found herself asking God, “Why did you send me here?”

She doesn’t ask God “Why?” anymore. Her family is safe and content, building a new life in America. “It’s Mashallah.”

Thanks for A Great Garden Season!

The Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) Garden contributes about 1,000 pounds of produce to our Food Bank each year, but it provides so much more to our community! Beyond nutritional sustenance, it offers beauty, serenity, and a sense of community and purpose, while also honoring our commitment to sustainability. The garden transforms all who enter it. Most days, you’ll find staff enjoying lunch under the pergola adjacent to the garden. Its flowers grace our desks and greet our guests in the lobby.

Our garden volunteers include families with toddler to teenage kids, retirees, corporate groups, schools and youth groups. They bond and build community as they work together to nurture and harvest nature’s bounty. Visitors always leave our little patch of earth with smiles on their faces. This is due in large part to our Garden Coordinator Robyn Rathweg, who has kept SCCC’s garden running smoothly for almost a decade. Robyn is always happy to share her vast gardening knowledge. She can often be heard welcoming young visitors with the phrase, “Who likes bugs?!” as she ushers them into the garden.

As summer winds down, we’re sharing a glimpse into our garden before another magical season comes to an end. We pause to reflect on the joy the garden has brought to so many this season, and we thank our volunteers and visitors for being a huge part of that joy.

On any given morning April through October, you’ll find volunteers in Sister Carmen’s Community Garden watering, pruning, harvesting, arranging flowers, and laughing. For some it’s a place to connect with the earth, for others it’s a place to connect with fellow gardeners or to learn from Robyn. For most—it’s a combination of factors that keeps them coming back week after week, season after season.

First, a little background on our garden and its caretaker: The garden was started in 2012 after Sister Carmen Community Center moved to our current location and had some land available for a garden plot. Robyn joined SCCC in 2014 and took over management of the garden.

Robyn Rathweg
SCCC Garden Coordinator

Robyn received her Colorado Master Gardener (CMG) certification through Boulder County’s Colorado State University Extension Office. The office’s website states that “Master Gardeners enhance Colorado communities through outreach, education and environmental stewardship.” Robyn does all of this and more for the Sister Carmen Community Center Garden.

Becoming a gardener was less of a decision and more of a state of being for Robyn. It was in her DNA. Her mother grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and she instilled a love of gardening in Robyn. “We always had a small garden when I was growing up in the suburbs of Ohio and Wisconsin.”

Gardening has continued to be a source of joy throughout Robyn’s life. “It’s my way of connecting with the natural world,” she says. “There are endless things to learn about nature, plants, animals, and fungus in a garden. It’s sometimes frustrating, but also endlessly interesting.”

“It’s important to connect with the natural world and be in the presence of living beings, especially things beyond our control,” she continues. “We prepare the soil, plant seeds, water, but Gaia (Greek goddess of Earth, mother of all life) does the rest. Gardening helps us understand our place in the world.”

Robyn enjoys working with experienced and beginning gardeners alike. She loves to consult with seasoned volunteers and introduce novices to the wonder of the garden. “I love working with kids—getting them to pay attention to what’s going on around them and become more connected to the world. It grounds them.”

And then there are our volunteers. “We really have an amazing group,” she says. “They are dedicated, knowledgeable, fun and kind.”

The feeling is mutual.

Katie, a new Colorado resident who left behind a large garden in Virginia, was suffering from “garden withdrawal.” Sister Carmen’s Community Center Garden was the perfect fix. She loves being outside, finds the garden very inspirational, loves that children often visit, and enjoys spending time with her new garden buddies. “I was blessed to have found it,” she shares. “Robyn is so welcoming.”

Another avid gardener, Cheryl, a third generation Boulder County resident, has volunteered in the garden for about a year. She loves working with Robyn in the garden as well. “She’s knowledgeable, kind, and easy to work with.”

Laurie, Caleb & Cassie

“Robyn teaches us so much,” Laurie agrees. She started volunteering with her two sons, Ethan and Caleb, about five years ago. Living in a townhome without a yard, Laurie was looking for an activity she could do outside with her boys. Sister Carmen’s garden fit the bill. Ethan built the compost bins years ago for his Eagle Scout project. Now he’s off at college and younger brother Caleb continues the family tradition with his mom and often brings his girlfriend, Cassie, along.

Another volunteer, Georgette, a 30-plus year Lafayette resident, is here every week working and playing in the garden. She’s been known to dare Caleb to eat another Japanese beetle—it happened once—telling how Robyn shared recipes using Japanese beetles with the garden crew. Georgette also brings her children and grandchildren to the garden when they visit from out of state.

Georgette and Family

More than anything, Robyn says she’s happy so many people have found sanctuary in the garden, and that SCCC staff members appreciate it so much. “I love their reactions when we bring flowers around the office,” she adds.

The process of closing the garden for the season is weather dependent, but usually begins in October. This year, Robyn is hoping to construct a “cold frame” or “hoop house” (modified greenhouse-type structure) out of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting to extend the gardening season. If you’d like to help with this project or the garden in general, contact Robyn. We’ll see you next Spring, if not sooner!

Fill Your Cup While Helping Others Fill Their Plates

By Kyle Staarmann, RN
Garden Volunteer

Sister Carmen Garden started in 2012 as a way to support the food bank and the mission of the organization, which has been feeding local families for 40 years. After spending a morning with the staff and volunteers in the garden, it is clear that it is in fact so much more than that.

After the past two years, surviving a global pandemic, historic fires and the challenges presented by everyday life, we all may feel our cups are running empty. It may feel harder to show up to work your most engaged self, to feel truly present with friends and family, and to feel that our self-care activities are doing the trick. I know that I’ve been in that place recently, running closer to empty than normal, hoping to find the rejuvenation I’ve been struggling to grasp.

Enter the whimsical, sunny, productive garden at sister carmen. A small plot growing everything from basil to carrots, with pumpkins, beans and tomatoes set to climb up trellises as the summer grows into fall. Flowers line the northeast side, a home for pollinators and a contributor to the brightening of the Sister Carmen office space, as volunteers distribute bouquets throughout the building to brighten everyday rooms. The garden is a home of its own, providing space and food for creatures like caterpillars to blossom into beautiful butterflies.

After only a few morning hours there, I felt a refresh I’ve been craving for months.

There are many ways to volunteer in the Sister Carmen Garden. Robyn, the extraordinary, passionate and knowledgeable caretaker, hosts camps of kids, corporate teams, and individuals alike to join her in the space that offers food and fuel for both body and soul. Tasks include picking vegetables, parceling portions for the food bank shelves, building fencing or garden boxes, and turning compost. Needs are tailored to meet the skills and goals of each individual or group of volunteers of all ages and differing talents.

The food grown in the garden goes into the Sister Carmen food bank, working to feed more than 50 families every day. This all organic, locally grown produce allows families in times of need to feel refreshed and proud of the food put on their table. The power of a good meal can go a long way to helping an individual get back on his or her feet.

So if you are feeling, perhaps, that your cup has been a little drained, your team could use an influx of fresh energy, or your family is seeming sluggish and disconnected, come volunteer at the Sister Carmen Garden! It promises to be a day of rejuvenation and connection to earth, all while providing valuable support for the Lafayette community and beyond.

Contact Robyn to find out more about volunteering opportunities in the garden.

“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.” – Jenny Unglow

Bonnie’s Story: A Marshall Fire Survivor’s Recovery Journey

At 92, Bonnie has seen a lot in her lifetime, but nothing like the fire that took her Boulder County home on December 30, 2021. Bonnie is the oldest known survivor of the Marshall Fire. And survivor is the perfect word to describe her. But it hasn’t been easy.

Fortunately, Bonnie is supported by a caring community and family, especially her son and caregiver, David. In the days and weeks following the Marshall Fire, Sister Carmen Community Center was overwhelmed with generosity from near and far, and that support enabled us to help people like Bonnie.

With just minutes to evacuate her home of more than 70 years, Bonnie left with little more than the clothes on her back. Her cell phone and critical medical supplies were left behind. Sister Carmen was able to provide Bonnie with a donated iPhone and financial assistance for an oxygen concentrator, necessary adaptive devices for her temporary living situation, and a walker. We also provided gift cards for essential items (groceries, clothing, household goods, etc.) and restaurants, as well as food from our food bank.

Bonnie originally stayed with friends, but recently moved into Balfour’s assisted-living facility in Louisville while her home is being rebuilt. “It’s a nice, calming place for her to be now,” says David, who is navigating the complex rebuilding process for her. At this writing (late June 2022, six months post-fire), Bonnie’s property has been cleared, but that’s it.

Most people think everything will return to normal in a couple of years, but David looks to the Paradise Fire in California to set expectations for a more realistic recovery timeline. “It’s taken more like five to eight years there to recover, and that was before COVID and supply chain delays,” he adds.

And yet, returning to a normal routine is what Bonnie and David crave the most. As her caregiver, David used to go over twice a day to fix Bonnie meals, do some yardwork, and help with other tasks. Bonnie spent endless hours in her garden. “All that has stopped. The only way to fully recover is to get the house rebuilt, but that is a very stressful and time-consuming process — dealing with the insurance company, the county, architects and builders,” says David.

SCCC Advocate Lauren with Bonnie

He’s doing his best to cope with the situation and not get stressed out by it. “Because then everyone around you gets stressed out by your stress, and that’s not fair to anybody. For me, I just try to minimize exposing other people to what I’m going through because they can’t tell. You can’t tell if someone’s been a fire victim or not, or a medical victim or not, or a cancer victim or not. You just don’t know. Just be nice. That’s the goal.

A peace symbol (made by local artist, Mitch Levin, and pictured here with Lauren and Bonnie) is David’s reminder to himself and others to “just be nice” throughout the recovery process.

“Everyone just needs extra help right now. Fire victims are mentally stuck from operating in chaos mode,” David explains. “Recovery is a cycle of ups and downs. We need to create and celebrate small successes to give people hope.”

“Until there’s a house on the property, it’s still a very desolate place,” David says. “It’s emotional. You have to release that. It doesn’t do much for you.”

He and Bonnie try to appreciate the present:  Bonnie is being well cared for at Balfour and has reconnected with some neighbors from her past, while also forging new friendships through sharing meals and participating in activities at Balfour. David has also made some new friends during the process. They will carry their new friends with them as they continue on their journey of recovery.

David also stays positive by focusing on the things he can control, like taking care of himself and Bonnie — nourishing their bodies and souls with good food, physical fitness, spirituality, and doing good in the world.

“Signs of the Time:” rebuilding and healing will take a long time

And moving some dirt around also helps… “I got a tractor, and I’m moving dirt [on the property]. I do what I can and try to forget about the rest,” he says.

Bonnie agrees as she chimes in: “The best thing is not to think about it all the time, and to have a good son! I could not do this without David’s help.”

It will take years, but Bonnie looks forward to growing her own garden and spending time with family and friends once again in her own beloved home.

David and Tuck: Finding Hope after Facing Homelessness

This holiday season, we want to share with you a very important story of an individual who needed help, healing, and hope — and got just that at Sister Carmen Community Center, thanks to supporters like you.

Eight years ago, David moved to Lafayette with his teenage daughter and his dog Tuck.

“I was a teacher, and I absolutely loved it — connecting with kids, watching their minds grow. It’s amazing. I was always independent. Ever since I was a teenager, I always had a job, an income. I was good about saving money for emergencies and retirement.” 

But in 2018, David was in a car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. Even long after he was mostly physically recovered, David struggled to stay focused and get back into the classroom. These new and unique mental challenges led to the loss of his teaching job. “I lost my confidence,” David told us.

David’s daughter was now 18 and going to college, but he needed employment that would at least provide health insurance for the both of them. He took a job at a warehouse making a mere $15 per hour — not nearly enough to make rent, let alone to cover other basic necessities.

His savings dwindled down to almost nothing. He was exhausted, working up to 17 hours a day on his feet, and could feel it taking a toll on his body. David worked until he physically could work no longer, eventually losing his warehouse job as well. With the loss of his job came the loss of his apartment and his much-needed health insurance.

With Tuck by his side, David now faced homelessness. “I was couch surfing when and where I could. I was looking at YouTube videos on how to convert a car into a home. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from living up to everyone else’s expectations … with a great education, I could do anything I wanted up until the car accident — then it was one big slugfest. And it was pretty lonesome.”

David had heard of Sister Carmen when he first moved to Lafayette, but he had never asked for help before. Now, at his loneliest hour, David came to Sister Carmen and met with an Advocate who introduced him to resources and helped him make a plan.

The first step was getting him safely housed. We arranged a short-term rental for him to stay in until he was accepted into the long-term Housing Stabilization Program. “After that, I was drawing my first real breaths in a long time. There was so much depression and anxiety that came with living in my car. You have to be kind to yourself and really pull yourself through.”

In 2020, David got a job at a pharmacy and successfully exited the HSP program. He moved his way up to working as a pharmacy technician — a position that, luckily, was considered essential during the pandemic.

“I remember this was the first time I got to sleep in a really long time. When people show that they have faith in you, then you heal. If you show that you have faith in someone then they learn to have hope for themselves.”

In December 2020, before vaccines were widely available, another round of bad luck hit David: he caught COVID-19 and became extremely ill.

“I took ten days off work, but even then, I still had trouble getting out of bed. I could hardly breathe. I was also experiencing long-COVID symptoms like brain fog. My doctor suggested I cut back the hours I worked.”

In March it became clear that his employers weren’t willing to accommodate his new adjusted schedule, and David was once again let go. His landlord wouldn’t let him renew his lease, so he wasn’t protected by eviction moratoriums. Desperate, he turned to Sister Carmen again.

SCCC helped cover the first month’s rent and deposit to get him re-housed. We connected him to a rental assistance program for those who were financially affected by COVID-19 that will keep him safely housed for 12 months while he gets back on his feet. David’s goal is to find a job that pays a living wage again so he won’t be in danger of falling behind from one bad illness or some bad luck. His wish is to return to his true calling as a teacher.

“I have the confidence again and can remember that teacher in me, that’s prepared and connected with every student,” he recalls. “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that being independent is good, but having a team is important. The people of Lafayette and the people at Sister Carmen became my family. It’s tough to ask for help. [Sister Carmen is] one of the only entities I know that will give people the benefit of the doubt… that will come from a place of empathy first and incentivizing instead of being disciplinary. And it’s always been consistent.”

David’s story is unique, but he’s one of hundreds of individuals that Sister Carmen Community Center helps every year. We ask that you consider not only them, but all the individuals and families who are in need of our help this holiday season. We can only do the life-changing work we do with the support of our community. Help us to offer hope and second chances by contributing today.

“I’m just so grateful. There really aren’t words. My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be simply to reach out. Don’t be afraid. Reach out. And beyond your wildest imagination, there is love for you in places you would never expect.” – David and Tuck

 

Too Sick to Work: How Robert’s Family Faced Homelessness while he Battled Cancer

In 2019, Robert was working a steady job in Florida while caring for his aging mother, his 16 year old daughter, and his younger brother with special needs. Robert’s mother had relatives in Colorado that were going through a tough time and his mother wanted the family to move to be closer to them. Robert thought these family members would help them until they got situated, but the very same night they arrived in Colorado, Robert was told they couldn’t stay and they were forced to go elsewhere. While staying with a friend temporarily, his mother had a bad fall tripping over their dog and seriously injured her shoulder. Robert was forced to find a better situation for his family and all he could find on such short notice was a small hotel room.

While trying to find a more permanent job, Robert was making ends meet by working for drive-sharing companies. This quickly fell into a cycle of making only just enough money during the day to pay for his car payment, their food, and cover the cost of the hotel room for the next night. Robert was barely keeping his head above water and could only manage to look ahead a few days at a time. Then, in spring of 2020, Robert began to fall ill.

As the days and weeks went by Robert was feeling sicker. He didn’t have insurance so he put off going to the doctor. When he was so ill he couldn’t work anymore and the family faced homelessness Robert finally went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with cancer. His family was again able to stay with a friend temporarily and the hospital staff helped get him signed up for Medicaid to cover the cost of treatment. But Robert still worried about the well-being of his loved ones since working while he sought treatment would be impossible and they still had no place to live. That’s when they were connected to Sister Carmen Community Center.

The family had utilized some of Sister Carmen’s services occasionally such as the food bank. His experience with SCCC had always been that they were friendly and understanding, but he had no idea how much they could help him now. After reaching out, Robert was connected with an Advocate who listened to his family’s situation, offered him options and advice, and shortly enrolled him into a program to get them housed. By August of 2020 the family had a safe place to live where they could afford rent until Robert recovered. This gave him the peace of mind to know his family was cared for and he could focus on treatment and getting his life under control.

Over the next 6 months Robert had undergone 2 surgeries, 2 rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In February of 2021 he was finally declared to be in remission! Robert has also been taking real estate classes and plans to work as a realtor once he passes his exam.

“You guys are life savers. The doctor told me that if I had waited 6 more months to get treatment it would’ve been too late. If I didn’t have a place to stay and continued to push through working as much as I had to make ends meet, then I definitely wouldn’t have been able to continue with the treatment I needed.”

To anyone else who is struggling Robert says, “Just keep your head up. It’s always going to get better. No matter what happens just push forward and you’ll make it through. My grandma taught me, ‘it doesn’t matter what else goes on, you just got to keep pushing forward.”

How our Staff Keeps Showing Up for the Community

by Suzanne Crawford, CEO

“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Stephanie Sparkle

The past year and a half has not been easy for our staff and volunteers. When COVID first hit, other businesses were shutting down but we knew that was not an option for SCCC. Food, financial assistance, and other resources (like digital literacy training and parent support groups) were more needed than ever. We had to keep providing support to our most vulnerable community members, so we adapted our operations in order to continue offering services in a safe manner. During that early time, when we were going through so many transitions as an organization, our staff and volunteers were having their own fears and reactions to the pandemic. Every person in our organization seemed to be in a different position on the continuum of concern and how a person felt could change from day to day. We learned very quickly to apply our philosophy regarding how we work with our participants to each other: we needed to meet each other where we were in that moment. We had to let each other feel what we needed to feel and give each other grace. Supporting each other became our number one concern because we knew we were only as strong as our weakest link.

Our staff—and a core group of dedicated volunteers—continued to show up day after day after day after day. They adapted, they filled in for each other, they took on new roles and responsibilities when necessary, and they met an unprecedented demand for financial assistance and food. What is truly remarkable about this is that so many were dealing with major life issues outside of work: weddings, deaths, breakups, illnesses, home purchases, and family emergencies. All of the major traumas that happen during normal life still happen during a pandemic. Yet our folks continually showed up for each other and showed up for our community.

Despite the heartache of this past year, there is also a deep well of joy that comes from being a part of such a wonderful team. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to this amazing team for all you have done to support your community and each other. You continued carrying those buckets of water, despite the stresses you were personally going through. For this, you have my deepest gratitude, respect, and love.

Sister Carmen Supports Lafayette’s 2021 Mental Health and Human Services Ballot Measure

Did you know 1 in 3 Coloradans struggle to afford food?

This fall, Lafayette voters will be asked to approve or reject a ballot measure to increase funding for mental health and human services. Lafayette’s 2021 Mental Health and Human Services Ballot will provide much needed funding to support local non-profits to help those families in our community who are encountering challenges such as food insecurity, mental health, domestic violence, medical care, and inability to afford rent, utilities, or childcare.

Sister Carmen stands behind this ballot measure. Local human service agencies—including Sister Carmen—have experienced unprecedented growth and service demands, and obtaining enough money to meet the increasing needs in our community has been a challenge. These variables continue to place significant strains on the ability of community-based human services safety net providers to effectively meet Lafayette residents’ needs within available resources.

Watch Harain, one of Sister Carmen’s Bilingual Advocates and Cultural Ambassadors, discuss the importance of these resources. Learn more by visiting www.lafayetteco.gov/2021Ballot

Get Involved by Volunteering at Sister Carmen!

Food Bank: Food Bank volunteers are critical to the mission of SCCC. Volunteers welcome donors, receive and weigh donations, sort food donations, check expiration dates, stock shelves, repackage bulk items, assist with coolers and check-out, and assist participants shopping for food. Shifts are Mon – Fri, 9:00-11:30, 11:30-2:00, or 2:00-4:30 PM. One 2.5 hour shift per week is required. 3 month minimum. Training provided.

Food Bank Box Runner: Tasks include packing and lifting 40+ lb. food boxes onto carts and into cars, working outside, and interfacing with the public. Shifts are Mon – Fri to be determined as we re-open (generally 2-3 hours).

Thrift Store: Tasks include thanking donors, unloading and sorting donations, putting items on shelves and racks, merchandising, and cleaning. Shifts are every day, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM for 2+ hours; drop-in shifts available after training.

Front Office: Tasks include supporting our Office Manager, answering calls, greeting walk-ins, schedule appointments with advocates, assist with class sign-ins, share resource information. Bilingual helpful. Shifts are Mon – Fri, for 2+ hours, morning or afternoon.

Garden: Tasks include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, composting, and more. No experience necessary. Shifts are 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM on Mondays and Thursdays.

Virtual Volunteering: Opportunities include organizing food drives, kit making (providing baggies of toiletries, feminine products, kids healthy snack bags, etc.), winter coat drives, and more.

Contact Ann@sistercarmen.org for more information on volunteering now or in the future.

Rhianna’s Story

“You need someone to continually motivate you and SCCC helped me to have a voice.”

Rhianna is a single mother of three children, one of whom is disabled. After being married for ten years, and shortly after learning of their son’s diagnoses, Rhianna’s husband abandoned the family. She did her best to provide for her children and build a life for them on her own. They moved into a low-income apartment and between working as a Door Dash driver and child support payments she was able to just make ends meet while also working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice—until the payments suddenly stopped with no warning and COVID made it nearly impossible to work or attend school while also watching her children full-time. In June of 2020, the family was unfairly evicted from their home and spent the next 5 months living in a tent on the street.

She tried to save up money doing Door Dash so she could get back into a home before winter, but even after she had enough money for a deposit, Rhianna quickly learned that no place would approve her for an apartment when she had a recent eviction on her record. Desperate to get the care she needed for her youngest child—who suffers from muscular dystrophy—Rhianna reached out to Imagine Colorado. They were able to set her up in a hotel temporarily and referred her to Sister Carmen Community Center.

SCCC’s full-time Advocate, Hugo, worked closely with Rhianna on her case to get her approved for the Housing Stabilization Program (HSP), which got her into an apartment and covered her deposit and 3 month’s rent to start. She was even given a voucher to the Sister Carmen Thrift Store with so she could get household items for the children.

SCCC then referred Rhianna to a program to become a Certified Nursing Assistance (CNA) and get paid to be her son’s own caregiver. Rhianna told us that before coming to SCCC she wouldn’t have been ready to take on something like the CNA program, but felt that because the opportunity was made available and someone gave her the encouraging push she needed that she felt more sure of herself.

Now, Rhianna feels like her family can finally be truly self-sufficient. Her son has the care he needs, and the ability to work from home and have steady income has allowed her to continue school again and she looks forward to earning her degree. She speaks to SCCC staff weekly. “They check-in and ask how things are going. They work with me to get any information I need. My Advocate pushes me to the right places. Brittany—the Advocate Manager—is the magic wand voice of all voices. She reaches out for classes that I might be interested in or says ‘here’s a job opportunity’ and encourages me to stay connected…I feel like I can reach out to them no matter what’s going on.”