Juanita Vasquez was referred to SAMMinistries for housing assistance in November 2011 from the Salvation Army. At the time of her referral she was suffering from arthritis, thyroid disease, and fibromyalgia, and functioning at the fifth grade level in both reading and math. Despite setbacks, Juanita worked with SAMM case managers to set goals for herself.
To help Juanita reach self-sufficiency, she was enrolled in SAMMinistries’ On-the-Job Training program. Through work at SAMM’s donation station, Juanita learned valuable skills that can translate across many work environments. Although hesitant to work at first, she quickly became one of the most dependable OJT workers and enjoyed her work tremendously.
However, at the completion of her On-the-Job Training, Juanita was still struggling to find a fulfilling and sustaining job. She loves to work with people, but felt that she needed more skills and knowledge to achieve her goal of self-sufficiency.
With the help of SAMM, Juanita enrolled in courses to become a Certified Nurse Aide, as well as high school equivalency classes. Her path to employment was not easy, and Juanita struggled with the confidence to complete her difficult classes. However, after months of hard work, Juanita received her GED, and completed the Certified Nurse Aide classes. “I completed my goals because of my son, I really want to motivate him,” said Juanita.
Juanita’s outlook on life has never been brighter. Because she was able to fulfill her aspirations, she is now encouraging her son to set and accomplish his education goals as well. “I’ve done something with my life, and my son sees that,” she said.
However, Juanita is not just a SAMM success story; she is now also a volunteer.
“SAMM gave me the help that I needed, and I wanted to give something back. If it wasn’t for SAMM I would be on the street with my son. I needed to do something to return the favor.”
Juanita volunteers at the Donation Station as often as she can, and hopes to continue to volunteer in other areas throughout the ministry. She hopes that her story motivates other people to move forward with their lives despite hardships.
Over spring break, teens living at SAMM's Transitional Living and Learning Center spent the week exploring expression through art with San Antonio artist Josh Perez. Watch their week unfold, and learn how SAMM is helping them overcome their self-proclaimed "house"lessness.
Lore was married for 30 years and then the unthinkable happened. She had to leave her marriage behind, and along with her son, tried to make it on their own. Soon was on the verge of homelessness. Her call to SAMMinistries' Homeless Prevention Services changed her and her son's life--keeping them off the streets and in a home of their own.
As a young widow, Christy has raised her boys on her own since her youngest son was 11 months old. With a bachelors degree in Management and two masters degrees (Healthcare Management and Finance), Christy said, “I am a proud, college-educated, single mother of two wonderful children and never once thought I would ever be in this position.”
In the spring of 2011, she was laid off from her well-paying job. While she was looking for a new job, in May of 2011 Bryce, her youngest son, was hit by a car. Although he was not seriously injured, since the accident he has experienced severe anxiety, seizures and debilitating tics. This resulted in several visits to specialists, hospitals and issues with medications. If she didn’t already have her hands full, in June of 2011 her 14-year-old son, Zane, was hospitalized for the 30th time in his young life. (Zane remained in the hospital until Thanksgiving. )
July 2011 brought its share of ups and downs. Christy found a job and was working for a great company. She was given family leave when she needed it, but, with medical appointments for her sons pulling her away from the job, she was out of money and looking at a possible eviction. “I used to think there was no such thing as someone becoming homeless unless they didn’t care to try.” She moved to another apartment complex close to her children’s schools, but it was really beyond her financial reach. Within months, she was facing another eviction; this time with both of her kids by her side.
Scared for the health of her sons if they were to become homeless, Christy contacted SAMMinistries’ Homeless Prevention Program. Her situation was assessed and she was told that SAMMinistries could help, if she moved to a more affordable apartment. The deposit and first month’s rent were provided so she could get settled in a new place. Since the move, Christy realizes the new apartment is a blessing.
Thankful not to be on the streets with her special-needs children, Christy says, “Because of SAMMinistries, we now have a new home and a new start on life! On behalf of myself and my two children, Thank you to all the donors of this wonderful program.”
Mark will be the first to tell you that he used to think he was the reason he is still alive, but now Mark says, "I know that God has had His hand over me; He's not done with me, yet!" He is quick to also credit SAMMinistries and their amazing donors and volunteers for giving him a purpose in life. "If it weren't for the donors, I wouldn't be working for SAMMinistries and I wouldn't have a purpose in life."
Mark's journey started as a young boy in Michigan. When they married, his mother and father each had 5 children from previous marriages. They then had Mark, making him the 11th child out of 12. Not wanting to dwell on the past, Mark did share that he started drinking alcohol at 12 years of age to "deal with things that had happened".
After his father retired, the family moved to live year round in an area of Michigan that is best known as a summertime playground. Affluent families would fill the houses on the shores of the lake that would remain empty most of the year and bring their own 'party supplies' with them to the beach. They were more than willing to share their drugs with the local teenaged boy. Soon Mark was hooked and his life forever changed.
He had once been a student-athlete, but now he needed the time he spent in school to get money to support his growing habit. He earned his GED, quit school, made new friends and spent his time using drugs and finding money for drugs, any way possible.
Soon he started having run-ins with the law. Since his parents had split up, Mark went back and forth between the households.When he would get in trouble in one parent's community, he would move back to the other parent. He went back and forth several times. He also was sent to boot camps, job corps and rehab. The law and his parents tried everything to get him to stop, but nothing worked. When he turned 18 and his old friends were graduating high school and going to college, Mark started serving a three year sentence for burglary and drug-related charges.
His 78-year-old father visited him frequently while he was in prison, making the long trip to tell him how much he loved him and believed in him. Mark knew when he got out things were going to be different, better. He would make his parents proud again. Sadly, within months of his release, both of his parents died within six days of each other. Things were going to be different, but certainly not better.
For the next 30 years Mark describes his life as a 'functioning heroin addict'. When he wasn't in jail, he was working. "I tried to fool myself that I could control it. I used heroin everyday and would go to my jobs and nobody knew." Then he would get in trouble with the law. "I was doing a life sentence on an installment plan . . . 30 days, 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years . . . but I knew if I went to prison in Texas, I would not come out alive. That scared me!'
So after nearly 40 years of addiction, Mark had had enough. He went through a program and, this time, he really worked it. He has been free of heroin since May 22, 2007. A lifetime of spending on drugs left him with no money to fall back on. So, when his roommate relocated to another city, Mark could not afford the rent. He was referred to SAMMinistries by his drug counselors and, in March of 2010, with three years of being clean and sober from heroin under his belt, Mark entered our doors at 910 W. Commerce.
He was one of our first men to move to our new location on the Haven for Hope campus and he soon was enrolled in our Job Training and Employment Development Program. After some testing, he was found to have aptitude in several areas. Now, for the first time since 1974, he was going back to school. Mark also started working at the Donations' Warehouse and then moved up to the Furniture For A Cause Store as a part of our Job Training Program. He attended classes to learn how to present himself at a job interview, how to dress, what to say, how to write a resume, all the skills he had missed growing up.
Mark was thankful for all of these lessons and felt encouraged and empowered as he learned these new skills. At the time, he never imagined what would happen next. Upon completion of his training, Mark interviewed for and received a job working for SAMMinistries. In July of 2011, Mark moved out of the SAMM Shelter at Haven for Hope and into his own apartment.
Now he is working full-time for SAMMinistries, going to school part-time and supporting himself without any drugs. He has become the man his father always knew he could be. He is our Donations staff member who leads volunteers in the Donation Warehouse on Saturdays. His favorite part of the job is telling his story to the volunteers who look at him in disbelief.
Some volunteers come from difficult situations and he enjoys being an encouragement and the voice of reason to those who might be struggling with issues that he knows about all too well. When asked what he has learned from his experience, Mark said, "I know there is a reason why I am still alive and in this place. Most people like me die or end up in prison the rest of their lives. It's not because of me and it's not just luck. I think God has given me this chance to help others. I want to give back." Then he quietly added, "Let them know, they will hear more about me in the future!"
Use these links to help others like Mark:
- make a gift using the "Donate Now" button above
Her life as an Executive Assistant to a Senior Vice-President of a Fortune 500 company was great, but Chanel has learned that life’s situations can change quickly.
She was promoted and relocated to San Antonio in 2007 with the company which she had worked for eight years. She thought her husband made the move with her. But, after three weeks, he announced that he had never had any intention of moving; left and filed for divorce, leaving Chanel to go through these transitions on her own in a new city.
Chanel was obligated to her employer because of her relocation and did not miss a beat! She worked hard for the next two years until the restructuring of the company left her without a boss and then her $50,000 job was gone!
She sincerely thought that she would be given her job back when things settled down at the company, but that did not happen. A practical and professional woman, Chanel was wise in handling her money. However, after the divorce and months of unemployment, her funds were depleting. She had already canceled all of the things that had once been ‘normal’ for her; insurance, credit cards, phone, but it wasn’t enough. She could no longer pay the utility bills she had once paid for before their due dates and services were disconnected.
Pride kept her from asking friends and family for help—she had always been the one that had it together and did well in life. Sadly, when she did get the courage to ask for help, people she thought were her friends turned their backs on her. Chanel’s faith shines through when she talks about how she has forgiven them, but knows she can no longer count them as friends.
Chanel had hit rock bottom. “I never thought I would ever have to worry about food. I was humbled and thankful for whatever I had—even when it was just a loaf of bread!” Desperate and unsure what to do, Chanel called United Way and was referred to SAMMinistries. After listening to Chanel and assessing her situation, there was very little that could have been done at that point, but to go to a homeless shelter and start over!
While she was at the shelter, she found work for a non-profit cleaning toilets for a group home and working at a retirement center. This steady income gave her enough money to get her own apartment. Soon she received a job offer from another large company for an even better job than the one that had brought her to San Antonio! A larger salary
and excellent benefit package gave her reason to celebrate and be hopeful again. She was back on her feet and her hard times were behind her—at least that is what she thought! Three months later, as layoffs hit her new company, the last hired were the first to go and that included Chanel! But this time, she knew her life situation was not one of which to be ashamed, “It can happen to anyone in any walk of life. All it takes is to lose your job and your money runs out.”
In fact, Chanel saw herself as stronger and wiser; she was determined that she was not going to be homeless again. “It’s so easy to slip into poverty and not have the fight. But this time I felt like a mighty eagle with a positive attitude, fearless spirit and one who makes wise decisions.”
She signed up with a staffing agency and received a contract to work for CPS which was to begin in a few weeks. In the meantime, bills needed to be paid. She was honest with her landlord, who would work with her as best he could, but she needed help. This time she wasn’t going to wait until it was too late to ask! She called SAMMinistries Homeless Prevention Services and received the assistance she needed to stay in her apartment and start her new job burden free! “I am at peace. Thank you for sowing a seed in my life. Because of you, I am able to walk with a smile!”
When asked if there was a message she wanted to give to our readers, as a professional woman who has gone from a high-paying job to cleaning toilets, she spoke from her heart, “I am so thankful for what I have and prayerfully ask that you, please, keep giving money, food, clothing to the organizations that help people. I say with great joy that the staff at SAMMinistries made a wonderful difference in my life. They were compassionate, understanding and helped me beyond my expectations. But . . . I know they cannot do it alone.“
Chanel looks forward to working her way into a permanent position with CPS as she lives her life according to Romans 4:17, “Calleth those things which be not as though they were.” A stronger and more grateful woman, she is definitely expecting good things in her future and we know they will come her way!
It has been ten years since the Benn family first came thru the doors of SAMMinistries’ Transitional Living and Learning Center (TLLC) and a lot has changed! Today Diane and her kids, Samantha, Jacob and Drew want to be an encouragement to people who are in the same shoes they walked in a decade ago.
Diane is now looking forward to teaching GED classes and they all want to share their stories with our residents. However, this isn’t the first time the Benn’s have given back to SAMMinistries. Jacob, an accomplished cross country runner, organized two Aztec Trek 5K Runs to benefit SAMMinistries while he was still in high school.
When Diane came back to TLLC, Samantha, a recent
honors graduate from Texas State University, was working and disappointed that she could not make the visit. However, Jacob and Drew were able to come along with Diane, eager to see their “old home”.
Samantha was in middle school, Jacob was in 4th grade and Drew hadn’t quite arrived when Diane found herself without a place to live. At 8.5 months pregnant, this mother of two came home one day to find her money gone, along with everything else in the apartment she had been sharing with “friends”.
At the time, she was working as a substitute teacher and attending San Antonio College (SAC) mortuary science
program. Now, with no money and no roommates, she could not afford a place for herself and children. The family found temporary shelter with her cousin and a friend, but she wanted to stand on her own two feet and not be a burden to others.
As a working mom, SAMMinistries’ Transitional Program was the perfect fit for her and her children. Two weeks after moving into TLLC, Diane gave birth to Drew. However, this did not deter her from accomplishing her goals. She graduated from the mortuary science program in May and immediately began working full-time at a local funeral home.
With her success in our program, the Benn family moved up to one of our transitional homes. It was then that she realized she missed teaching—it was her passion. So, she started going to UTSA full-time to earn her degree to become a bilingual teacher. Working full-time, going to school full-time and raising three kids wasn’t easy.
“There were times I wanted to give up, but then I would look at my children and had faith God would provide for us. I want to thank you all for giving so we could live at TLLC. We wouldn’t be where we are now if it weren’t for you. ”
The next two years brought lots of changes: a bachelor’s degree, a graduation from our Transitional Program, and a new career working as a teacher for the San Antonio Independent School District. Not one to rest on her laurels, Diane kept working toward her biggest goal—home ownership. Her face lit up when she proudly announced that, in 2008, she became the proud owner of her own home!
A firm believer in setting goals, Diane has high expectations for her children, but does not have to worry about them—they are goal setters, too! Samantha is beginning her master’s degree program in social work in the fall with hopes of helping people through their difficult times. Jacob is attending Oklahoma State University on a cross country scholarship, where he will be a part of the National Championship Team. His goal is to be on the 2016 Olympic Cross Country Team—be watching for him! The youngest child, Drew, wants to be a professional football player, but he is just 10 years old!
Looking at her now, you would have never known that she had once been a homeless mom. But then she says there will be a lot of people who will be surprised to read she was homeless, including some family members.
“When I was living here [TLLC] no one knew I was homeless. I as always happy . . . no one could tell. Some people think that a homeless person is a person on the street begging, but that didn’t define me. It just shows that you can’t really put a face on homelessness.”
Diane’s not done yet! Currently she is working on her next goal—a master’s degree in Educational Leadership! Now she has her sights set on becoming a professor in bilingual adult education. We have no doubt that there is nothing she can’t do!