ATTAIN Site: Baden Street Settlement
Currently employed and working toward owing her own culinary business
From homeless to hopeful, Donna Garcia is moving onward and upward to a successful career and stable home life. She credits Baden Street Settlement’s integrated services of the Emergency Family Assistance, Workforce Development, and ATTAIN lab programs as a stepping stone. Today she is enthusiastic about her position as a cook at a Rochester, NY area Red Lobster Seafood Restaurant and joyous with her reunited family.
Donna Louisa Garcia Nunez was born in Rochester, New York but spent her formative years in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She married at an early age, but after 10 years divorced. She is the mother of four children; Kiara (16), Shalomar (14), Felix (14), and Anthony (11). As a single parent, Ms. Garcia modeled the importance of sustained employment, a positive work ethic, and continued education. In 1989, she obtained her GED. In 1992, she returned to Rochester where she has worked in the areas of human services, education, warehouse distribution, and culinary arts.
November 2005 was when the threads holding her life together began to unravel and Donna Garcia could no longer hold it together. Managing her job and adolescent children was overwhelming. Eventual job loss led to eviction, and being homeless. “I began to loose control of my life . . . I sent my children to a secure place which was with my mom and cousin,” she explained.
Homeless and jobless, Donna turned to Baden Street Settlement. First, Baden Caseworker Elizabeth Conde assisted her with placement in an emergency shelter and guided her through the Monroe County Human (MCHS) intake process. In turn, MCHS placed her in the Work Experience Program (WEP) at Baden where she met Case Aide Marietta Melendez. “After Donna completed the needs assessment and I interviewed her, I knew that the ATTAIN Lab was the perfect place for her WEP assignment. I also knew that Ms. Ward would help her with the job readiness skills she needed using ISI (Instructional Systems, Inc.) job skills software.”
Baden ATTAIN lab Manager Alicia Ward shared that “Last summer, you would not have been able to detect that this mother of four was unemployed, homeless, and hungry. Donna always wore a smile as she assisted others and was upbeat throughout the day.” Furthermore, Ms. Ward spoke of the many talks she and Ms. Garcia had about her passion for the culinary arts and dreams of restaurant ownership and management. Mrs. Ward encouraged Donna to conduct internet searches and apply for various restaurant positions.
This past October, dressed for success, self-prepared resume and cover letter in hand, Donna Garcia interviewed and was hired for a position as a cook at a local Red Lobster restaurant. She said, “I sold myself during the interview! Throughout the manager and I swapped stories of (our) past restaurant experiences. I let him know that cooking is my passion!”
Having full-time employment has literally brought Donna’s family together. Her children again reside with her, along with her sister Shandel who recently relocated to Rochester from Ponce. Typifying a 21st century family, you will find them spending family time playing games on their brand new computer. When asked: "How has your mom’s full-time employment and new computer changed your life?" The children explained:
Anthony: “I like having a computer because I can write stories and draw pictures. I like mom having a job because I can go out and play sports. I can also go to the mall, and ask for something and get it!”
Shalomar: “We have food in our stomachs, and clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads, and Myspace.com, and Imeem.com.”
Kiara: “The best thing about her having a job is that the house can be maintained. The best thing about having a computer is that I can look for jobs on-line, on the Internet.”
Felix: “I can do my homework. I need to get good grades at SOTA (School of the Arts) so I can become an architect."
Donna’s sister Shandel gleefully summed up Donna’s experience of the past year saying, "Donna has overcome and made it!"
Looking back, Donna says, “I would like to thank Baden Street Settlement House for the support they gave me and my family. And, a special thanks to my mentors Alicia Ward, Marietta Melendez, and Paul Manning (Skills Trade & Employment Preparation Program Coordinator). Yet, she says, she "prefers not to look back, but to look forward." As Donna Garcia continues to perfect her culinary skills, Taco Bell, make room. “I don’t want to just manage my own restaurant, but own a franchise specializing in Latin American and Caribbean food!” Garcia proclaimed.