Serena grew up in a household full of children. Her adoptive mother, a retired veterinarian, had adopted six other children. Serena, who came in at age 2, grew up with two older brothers and four younger siblings in their home in Long Beach. “I grew up with all of them,” she said. “It was adventurous. We were always doing family-oriented things. Whether it was soccer, baseball, horseback riding, track, volleyball—anything family-oriented—we were doing it. And in the summer we would travel—my mom loved to travel. We went to the Caribbean a couple times to visit her family. And we would take cross country trips—once we drove all the way to Maine.”
After high school, Serena tried out college, but it wasn’t for her. She had worked in the school cafeteria since her freshman year, and moved in with one of her sisters when she was 19. She was there for two years before moving in with another sister, where she’s been since.
“I was always working,” said Serena, who had jobs in catering, at the library, in retail and at a burger joint. “When I found out I was pregnant, I worked in home care until I had my beautiful baby girl Addison in May 2019.” Serena took a month off and then started working at a daycare, where she could bring her daughter.
Around that time, Serena’s brother was set to move into the space she was inhabiting at her sister’s, so she had to move out. Serena and Addison got to the Mission in February. “I’m trying to get my foot in the door of my own independence,” she said. “The whole independence track, it needed to start with me branching out. So I’m figuring that out. I found the Mission and they said they could help me.”
Even though Serena hadn’t been in a shelter before, she said the transition was easy. “Everybody was so welcoming. There are always people there willing to talk to you. If you feel like you want to talk to somebody, the staff always have their ears out, willing to listen, and always providing the right feedback—even if you don’t want to hear it or it’s hard to hear,” Serena said, laughing. “And all the guests, we can relate to each other even more. Some of the problems that we are facing, only we can truly understand.”
Serena, now 23, was hired at Amazon in March, where she’s very happy. “I work in the warehouse and I love it,” she said. “I want to work on slowly working up the ranks at my job. I’m planning for my future, for when my little one grows up and goes to school.” Serena is looking for a studio or one-bedroom apartment but admits it’s been a struggle during these unprecedented times. “It’s hard because of COVID and the low-income housing being full. I don’t know everything right now, but I’m trying.”
As for Serena’s daughter, Addison has adapted very well to her new environment. “Addison is happy 98 percent of the time,” Serena said. “I think I do a great job of keeping her as happy as humanly possible. She’s a very intelligent 1-year-old. She loves everybody here.”
Val, a case manager at the Mission, said the feeling is mutual. “Serema is literally the sunshine of this place,” Val said. “She has the most energy I have ever seen in a human being. She is the sweetest and cutest thing and her daughter is the cutest little thing as well. They are beloved and definitely brighten everyone’s day.
“Meeting with Serena reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit and the joy that comes when a person doesn’t let circumstance define them. Serena is strong and courageous and a genuinely beautiful soul. It has been a privilege to walk with her.”