Maria walks into Saint John’s in scrubs fresh off a break from her job at UC Davis Medical Center. She has a bright, infectious smile and truly seems to be the happiest person in the world which is simply amazing as she was homeless before finding Saint John’s Program for Real Change.
“I love my job,” she says smiling. ”I actually got this job, thanks to Saint John’s. I didn’t think I would be hired but I applied anyway.” It’s hard to believe this young, enthusiastic woman has a criminal record and was living in a van before she came to Saint John’s.
Now at UC Davis, Maria happily visits with patients while working in environmental services. She is responsible for refreshing and restocking the patient’s rooms, and one can only imagine how she brightens and lifts their spirits when they see her walk in.
Maria has literally walked through fire to get to where she is now. She describes the night that she awoke in her apartment to people screaming and her entire apartment ablaze. Maria was trapped in her room with her son, and the walls around her were engulfed in flames.
“I remember saying, God please just get my baby out. I don’t care about me,” she reflects. At that moment, the doorway and the hallway cleared, and the fire crept back to the walls. Maria was able to walk out with her baby in her arms as the apartment exploded behind her. Later, detectives found a can of butane and drugs in the bathroom (left by her baby’s father) had been the cause of the fire.
On the advice of a friend who had successfully graduated from Saint John’s, Maria was able to get in and begin rebuilding her life. Specifically, Maria needed to address how to keep toxic and abusive people that she had left behind out of her life. Her older kids were living with their grandparents, and she was able to regain custody of her youngest son, who benefited from Saint John’s First Steps Program, where he even learned sign language! In fact, Maria believes that one of the reasons she got her son back was because the judge was familiar with and supportive of the program at Saint John’s.
Maria came to Saint John’s with the understanding that even though she had kicked drugs and escaped a disastrous situation, she still had relationship and boundary issues that she needed help with; plus, because she was still living amongst drug addicts, her kids were taken away.
She says the support of the other women that had been through similar difficulties helped her tremendously. “We don’t tear each other down, we lift each other up. If you’re constantly blaming others, you’re never going to change. I learned that at Saint John’s.
“I try to look at the positive things,” she continues. “I’ve lost everything but those were just things. Most important of all, I’m still here and my kids are still here. I’m not going to let anything break me.
“Even once you get out of an ugly situation, there are other things to work on,” Maria acknowledged wisely. “Saint John’s taught me how to look at things differently. Take out the toxic. Take out what doesn’t fit. I definitely learned that lesson here. You can’t just change yourself; you have to change everything else around you.”