Family Self Sufficiency – Helping to Change Lives

By Suzie Colby, Vice President Resource Development


“Life is not a problem. It can be a challenge, but you can always find your way.”
Iris, Working Mom and SAY Client


 For Iris, these words of wisdom guide her life and help her to keep her two sons on the right path. Behind the words lies an unyielding optimism and desire to succeed which she learned from her grandfather, a self-made man who was locally famous for his successful market and butcher shop in Mexicali. These traits helped Iris through significant challenges when she became a struggling single parent who sometimes failed to make ends meet.

Iris remembers a near-breaking point for her 14 and nine-year old children when she told them that they all were moving into a homeless shelter. Instead of focusing on negatives, Iris saw the three-month period as an opportunity to save money and find a job with more hours and better pay. She also turned the shelter experience into something positive for her boys, by refusing to let them dwell on the stigma of being homeless. “I would wake them up in the morning and tell them we were going for a walk.  We would walk to the ocean and learn instead of thinking about all of our problems and sitting in the shelter. You don’t need money to learn things. Homelessness is a process and you just find a way out.”

Iris connected with SAY San Diego’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program as part of her plan to move beyond part-time work and find stable housing. The FSS program pairs case workers with unemployed or under-employed San Diegans who are looking to explore new personal and professional opportunities. FSS provides emergency assistance, job leads and referrals, free tax preparation, education and career guidance. For Iris, the individualized support she received from her FSS case manager was key. She received assistance with job leads, resume writing, emergency food, transportation (gas cards), and school supplies for her sons.

Today, Iris is employed by a major hotel chain and went from a seasonal employee to full-time in a matter of months. “I went to the supervisor and told her that I didn’t want to be seasonal and that I wasn’t leaving. I liked the company and wanted to stay.” Iris proudly adds that she will qualify for management training after one year. “I told my supervisor that I have my calendar marked for that.”

While Iris loves her new job, she believes education is king. “I’m going to get my bachelor’s. It might take me a long time, but I’m going to get it.” Her advice to her sons and other young people, including single moms like her, relates to education, which she believes gives you more choices and chances.

What seemed like a distant possibility is now a reality for Iris. She has a steady income, and she and her boys live in their own apartment in North Park.  Iris is a voracious reader, an avid runner and planner, always thinking about the next mile. “Read. Run. Keep busy.” Iris explains. “That’s how I live my life.”

Iris is one of nearly 500 people who are helped by SAY San Diego’s FSS program annually. SAY offers more than 30 programs that invest in the success of youth, families, and communities every day.

For more information about the Family Self-Sufficiency program, contact Melanie von Schroter, 858-565-4148 x281.