1) What is your role at Operation Hope and how long have you been working there?
I am the Director of Resource Development at Operation HOPE – North County. My role is to build relationships, grow our community partners, find grant opportunities and bring resources to the program. I have been with the agency for two years.
2) Where are you originally from?
3) What was your childhood like, and how did it influence you into the person you are today?
I am one of 12 children raised in Vista. I attended elementary and middle school in the Vista Unified School District and am a Vista High School graduate. My childhood was challenging and full of love all that same time. I grew up in a predominately single parent household. We didn’t always have enough money to pay the rent and utilities, and sometimes not even enough food to put on the table, addiction tore through my family.
Violence was prevalent. Statistics show that one in four girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. At the age of 7, I was one of those girls. That’s a hard thing to share but I think it’s important because as an adult now, I know it is all too common. And often it is a lonely feeling to have experienced something so traumatic and I want anyone who has ever had a piece of them stolen to know that you are not alone! Being the second oldest girl in my family, an older sister to now 10 of the most incredible and resilient human beings, I knew at a young age that I had to be a positive influence in their life. I wanted to protect them and always remind them that the things that happen to us do not define us. We get to write our own story and each day is like new page.
Although we had some extremely rough times, some we would rather choose to forget if we could, we also had some of the greatest memories together. We made the best of any situation. They have given me strength and motivation in ways I can never truly put into words. They were “why” in life and have always been my hope. While my childhood forced to me grow up fast, it also taught me to overcome adversity and I was blessed with a lot of strong, independent woman in my life who taught me the meaning of strength and family.
Even when we didn’t have a lot we had everything, and that’s family. They influenced the person I am today. I can only hope that through my work and sharing my journey, I can be that to someone else. For me that started at a young age, in my own home, with my own siblings, especially my younger sisters.
4) What inspired you to go in to a career that worked with families experiencing homelessness?
Growing up in a big family, I have always had a passion for working with families and children. What inspired me to go into this career and Operation HOPE North County in particular is the focus on the family as a whole and all the community collaboration.
I will never forget the day we lost our house. With eight kids at the time and while we have a large family support system, no one was able to take all eight of us together. My siblings and I were split up between family members. Their faces and the feeling of being separated and the fear of uncertainty that day has always stuck with me.
My sisters and I stayed with different family members for a couple months and then we lived in a hotel for about a year. It was rough, but my mom, being the strong woman she is, worked so hard to provide a stable environment for us. No matter how hard it got and where we were, we all stayed close and spent as much time as we could together.
We were so fortunate to have a big family, a support system and always, each other. Not everyone has that and here at Operation HOPE North County, families have that support system and encouragement. Not only do we provide a safe environment for families to stay together and a program to help them become independent but a sense of community and belonging. It is amazing to see and be a part of.
5) Is there a particular family that has stuck with you throughout your career and why?
Every family that comes through our doors is unique and has a different story, they all touch you in some way. There are quite a few families that have stuck with me. I think for me a family that has really stuck with me is a single father raising three girls on his own. The girls came into the shelter afraid and very closed off and after several months, they were socializing with other children and doing better in school.
Another family came into the shelter after losing their mom and the youngest child was not speaking, selective mutism due to trauma. After a couple of months at Operation HOPE he was running around, playing with kids his age and couldn’t wait to share what he ate for lunch each day.
Through our homework support program, he was also learning to read at his grade level. So much growth and love takes place here, not only with the children but with the adults. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to show compassion in a safe environment and to say “I believe in you and I will not give up on you!” for us to have confidence and believe in ourselves to change our direction.
6) Is there an achievement or accomplishment you are most proud of and why?
I am a first-generation college graduate, having graduated from UC Riverside with a BA in Sociology. The opportunity to attend college seemed impossible at the time and was something I dreamed of. I knew I wanted something different in life and I was determined to break through the barriers that were in front of me, I would not be a statistic. Plus, I’ve always loved to learn and be challenged.
Walking across the stage on graduation day, with my family in the audience and knowing all the hurdles I had to rise above, was so empowering for me and for them. I want others out there to know and see that no matter what your situation is, what your childhood was like or where you come from, it is possible for you too!
Education is one of the most powerful tools you can have in life, regardless of what you study or where you learn it, the knowledge is yours and no one can take that away from you. My lived experiences and my education led me here and I now have the opportunity to work in the community I grew up giving hope to families and children. Vista has always been home to me and it is dream come true to work here and give back to families like mine.
7) What is the biggest challenge you face?
I would have to say that there are two really great challenges and that is time and resources. We are not eligible for some federal funding such as Housing First funds and thus we have to rely on the generosity of individual donors and community partners to serve our community.
This is challenging because there are so many great organizations in North County doing amazing work that we find ourselves competing for funds. When the needs are so great and the work is so critical to people’s lives, their health and well-being and their future, having enough resources is vital. The need is often greater than the funding available. We work effortlessly to build relationships and sustainability for our programs.
When you are working with such a dedicated group of people, who pour their hearts into this work, time is always a challenge. One of my favorite sayings is you can’t pour from an empty cup. we have to press pause sometimes and recharge our own batteries so that we can continue our efforts in changing lives. It’s hard to do that sometimes. We are so thankful for all our volunteers who dedicate their time to support us. We do this work together.
8) What are you working on or hoping to do in order to solve it?
We have a lot of projects going right now to focus on sustainability for the organization. Funding is critical to our programs and serving our community by creating a steady, constant and reliable support system so that we can continue providing a safe environment with necessary access to tools and resources for families and single women.
We are constantly creating awareness in our community, sharing our story and building relationships and partnerships. We don’t do this work alone. The old phrase “it takes a village” is absolutely true.
9) How has your work at Operation HOPE changed you?
Working at Operation HOPE has really made me step out of my comfort zone and has challenged me as a person. I have typically been more on the shy side, surprising coming from a Development Director, I know. The fact that we are doing this interview and I am sharing a piece of my own story is change in of itself. Working at Operation HOPE and seeing the courage and power of sharing one’s own experiences has inspired me.
We all have a story and our story can bring hope to others and create awareness. Instead of being ashamed and embarrassed of the things I have gone through and experienced in life for fear of being looked at or treated differently, I can now turn into a positive and give hope to someone who is struggling with their own journey. It is not easy to share your own story but if doing so gives even just one person the hope and encouragement that it is possible, then it is all worth it. It’s a reminder that you are not alone!
This work has humbled me and is a constant reminder that you never know whose life you can change by being a voice for those who are experiencing tough times. Watching this community come together every day to remind families, children and women that someone believes in them is truly remarkable.
In a world that is struggling to love one another, when we come together and work together we can truly change lives and spread hope. This community does that every day here at Operation HOPE. I have met so many incredible, caring and selfless human beings working together and I have the opportunity to work alongside some truly empowering and inspirational women.
10) Is there anything else you would like to share or add?
Get involved in your community. Find something that motivates you and get involved. Operation HOPE North County always welcomes new partners. Those who have time can be volunteers, those who have financial resources can be a Champion of HOPE and those with connections can be a voice for us as we grow our community partners. There is a place for all of us to make a difference in our community, we are all in this together. Pick your passion.