As a Family Advocate, I get a lot of emails and letters from families we help but there’s always that one. The one that reminds you why you come into work. One that you re-read over and over. One that sticks with you and fills you with humility and grace. Sara’s letter is “the one” for me.

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Sara. I wanted to take the time to personally thank the YMCA for everything you have done not only for me but for my son as well. As a single mother of a 9-year-old, my journey to get where I am today has been no easy feat.

In 2008, I lost my mother to alcoholism which led me down a very dark path of my own that included excess drinking, leading to my eventual homelessness. While homeless, I was put in extremely dangerous and unsettling situations that had me fearing for my life practically every day. My circumstances on the streets slowly chipped away at what little self-esteem I had left which gave way to my not caring whether I lived or died at that point. I used to dumpster dive for food as well as bottles and cans to recycle for money in order to eat as well as support my drinking habit. I resorted to panhandling on a daily basis as well which provided to be not only humiliating but dehumanizing because not only am I a woman, but a woman of color as well (compartmentalizing me as a stereotypical black woman living on the street.)

At the time, I was on the street with a man I had known for years. One day, while sitting in a park (which was my home), I discovered I was pregnant after taking a pregnancy test I bought from the 99 cent store. It was that moment I knew I had to do any and everything I could to stop drinking, seek shelter and get off the street for good. I went to a crisis house for several weeks and from there to Rachel’s Women’s Center located downtown. I was allowed to stay there (but could not be there with a child).

At 7 months, I moved in with my best friend and her mother. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. When he was almost 2 years old I decided to enroll in some classes at San Diego City College. I found a daycare center for my son and because of the generous assistance of the YMCA paying for my child care I was able to go back to school. At this point, I was not with the father of my son so I had become a single mother balancing motherhood and college at the age of 36. I did very well in school and maintained a 4.0 G.P.A. Thanks to the YMCA I had time to study since my son was in daycare.

I graduated City College with high honors and transferred to UCSD. Again, with the help of the YMCA I was able to pursue higher education as my son was in daycare. I graduated UCSD with my BA in Global Health (Cum Laude).

I am beginning my new career helping homeless people find housing and employment. It is very humbling to be able to give back to my community and I hope to be as successful in my career as I was in college. With all that the YMCA has done for me, I am truly grateful because there is no way I could have accomplished my dreams without you. I would like to add that I am almost ten years clean and sober.

All the best,


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This story was taken from our 2020 Chronicle of Us: Stories that Connect Us