Out of Ashes, Comes Hope


The wildfire reached Sweet T’s restaurant in Santa Rosa on October 9th. It was gone in a matter of minutes–reduced to hot metal and ash. And so was Nina’s only source of income. 

Nina, 30, is a single mom living with her nine-year-old daughter, Kaylee, in the USA Properties Fund community of Terracina at Santa Rosa. Nina had been a server at Sweet T’s restaurant. She applied for unemployment immediately, but it would not come soon enough to pay her November rent.

Nina is not a stranger to hard times or hard work.The daughter of immigrants from Thailand, her father passed away when Nina was just nine years old, leaving her mother to work 2 or 3 jobs at a time to provide the basics for her children. Nina herself entered the workforce at 15 years old to contribute to the family’s income.Though it was necessary, it greatly troubled Nina’s mother. She had hoped for an easier life for her daughter, but Nina’s life has been far from easy. She came to Terracina at Santa Rosa after several years of “couch surfing” among friends. Having an affordable apartment at Terracina at Santa Rosa was a huge break for Nina. It gave her the stability she needed to work and pursue her dream of a college education.

Nina has always believed that hard work and education will be her key to financial security for herself and her daughter. She attended Santa Rosa Community College and slowly chipped away at the classes she needed to earn her degree. In 2016 Nina achieved an Associate of Science degree with honors and promptly entered the competitive Dental Hygienist program at Santa Rosa Community College as the next step on her path forward. The Dental Hygienist program is rigorous and expensive–with student loans and her income from her restaurant job, Nina was barely holding it all together. And then wildfire came to Santa Rosa–bringing devastation and destruction and putting everything she had worked for in jeopardy.

Nancy, LifeSTEPS’ Director of Social Services at Terracina Santa Rosa, heard about Nina’s situation and connected Nina with the local St. Vincent De Paul agency. They agreed to pay both Nina’s November and her December rent. LifeSTEPS was also able to help Nina with other financial needs through a special LifeSTEPS’ Fire Victims Fund and Nancy encouraged Nina to apply for a college scholarship through USA Properties’ JB Brown Fund. Nina will soon be awarded a JB Brown scholarship of $3,500 toward her education. What an emotional rollercoaster the last few months have been for Nina!

For someone who has gotten through life on grit and the strength of her own willpower, Nina is truly overwhelmed with gratitude that so many people have reached out to help her. Perhaps, all Nina’s early years of struggle prepared her for this latest crisis. Her strong will to persevere through difficult times continues to fuel her desire to achieve her goals, but now she carries with her a renewed hope that nothing (not even a raging wildfire) will stop her from creating a better life for her family. 2018 is now looking to be her best year ever!

“Continuing on my path of education shows that even through the tough times, I am still able to achieve my goals. It shows my mother that she did not hinder my dreams by asking me to work at a young age. It shows my daughter what perseverance looks like.” Nina, November 2017

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