Brenda and her kids are enjoying a home of their own

Brenda was born in Mexico, the oldest of five kids, but was raised in the San Fernando Valley. “I was always really good at school,” said Brenda, who was in a gifted education program in elementary school and was an honors student in middle school. But when Brenda found out she wasn’t in the country legally, a lot of her original dreams were put to the side. “I didn’t care as much about school when I learned that,” she said. “When I realized I couldn’t get a scholarship for college, I didn’t finish high school. I just started traveling around the United States. I was doing pin-up modeling and promotion for night clubs.”

Brenda met a man and got into a relationship, one that turned abusive. “When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I had just been told two months earlier that I couldn’t have children. After that, I was just focused on her. I got a restraining order against her father. I focused on raising my daughter.”

A few years later, Brenda had a son. “I had a good job at a kiosk in the mall, but they closed that location,” she said. “Things got harder (for immigrants when things changed politically). I had to apply for DACA, and I thought I did, but a person I trusted took the money and didn’t submit the application. I lost my work permit. I didn’t want to do things illegally, so it was hard to find a job.”

Brenda worked with her mom’s housekeeping services a couple days a week, but it wasn’t enough. “I rented a room from a friend, but (it didn’t work out). I stayed with another friend, but her son did drugs, and I didn’t want my kids around that. I looked for a place, but they want three times the rent.”

Brenda felt like she was out of options until she remembered the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, a place to which she had donated baby clothes and household items in the past. “I remembered that it was a family shelter and called them,” said Brenda, who entered the mission in November. “You hear these horror stories about shelters, but luckily it was nothing like that. It was completely different.”

Brenda’s children, now 2 and 9, were also happy with their new home. Brenda was sexually abused as a child, so she is careful about who she lets around her children. “My kids are used to it just being the three of us,” she said. “The way I keep them safe is limiting who they are around. They got used to being around more kids and more adults. I was glad they got to hang out with other people without having that fear of something happening.”

Brenda knows the importance of mental health, as she suffers from anxiety attacks. She enjoyed the relaxation class at the mission, and the monthly visits from a masseuse. She also appreciated the bible classes for her and her kids, and the compassion from staff. “I like the way that their program works,” she said. “You have 30 days to find work, and when I was looking, I knew they’d work with me. I wasn’t stressed. They understood our situation and I was never worried about getting kicked out. I liked the staff so much. They are very nice. And I appreciate everything they did for us.”

Brenda got a job working with Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, going door-to-door educating customers about a rebate program. She was able to save money and move into her own place in April. “I’m supposed to go back to work next week,” said Brenda, who wasn’t working at the time of this interview in May due to COVID-19. “I have enough saved. It’s a small one-bedroom, and we’ve been keeping busy. I’m painting furniture and reorganizing. God sent me here for a reason. It was hard work to complete the program, but it was worth it. After you leave, the way they help you … it’s definitely worth it.

“The mission program allowed me to do the one thing I’ve wanted to do for (10 years): save up money and get my own place. More importantly, to not have to be dependent on anyone else. I’ve become independent again, and that’s something I haven’t had in a long time.”