by Stephanie Kalele, Donor Relations Manager
Tanya Vasquez had just started putting her life together when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A single mother of two, Tanya was initially introduced to Urban Upbound in September 2019, right before her 25th birthday. With the help and encouragement from our counselors, Tanya earned her high school equivalency diploma (HSE), moved out of the shelter system, and enrolled in a training program to become a certified medical coder and biller. Tanya’s journey along with her two children has been full of ups and downs, especially when New York City schools had to close in March 2020. Tanya had to choose between working and caring for her children.
Looking for support during COVID
Before Tanya started her journey with Urban Upbound, she had been to several different employment programs and never saw the results she was expecting. It was hard for her to find a job that would be able to meet her financial needs, especially without a high school diploma. Studying for the HSE exam meant that she had less time for job applications and to go to job interviews. In addition to that, Tanya had to take care of her children. Before the pandemic, she was able to enroll her kids in a daycare and an after-school program with the government’s assistance. Unfortunately, the little help that she had been receiving was cut short when New York went ‘on pause’.
Tanya found work at a phone service provider kiosk not far from where she lived in Queens. During the first months after schools closed, either the father of her kids or other relatives would look after the children. This arrangement didn’t last long and when Tanya couldn’t find someone to tend to her kids, she didn’t have any other option but to skip work. As she was paid hourly, missing work affected her paycheck significantly. As the pandemic got worse, she couldn’t sustain working while caring for her children. She finally resigned from her job to make sure that her kids were taken care of, especially because one of her kids has a respiratory issue.
Urban Upbound’s Support
Five months into joining our program, Tanya gained enough confidence to take the HSE test. With the guidance from the Urban Upbound coaches, Tanya finally took the test in February 2020. When she found out that she passed the test, she felt that this accomplishment set her on the path forward. She became more optimistic and was jolted into taking more actions.
Leaving the shelter was next on her list. After sharing her determination to get housing for her and her children, Tanya’s employment coaches connected her to our affordable housing counselor. Our counselor helped her explore her options. After several 1-on-1 sessions, Tanya finally fulfilled her dream to be able to provide a stable home for her children, and in November 2020 they moved into their own apartment.
Tanya’s newfound sense of purpose and the victories she had achieved made her even more hopeful about her future. She recently applied for — and was accepted! — into a tuition-free training program for professional medical billing and coding, which was referred to her by one of the Urban Upbound coaches. She is now on track to secure a solid full-time job as soon as she receives her certification.
As Tanya met different counselors at Urban Upbound, she saw what made us different. “Urban Upbound is the only back-to-work program I have been assigned to that has changed my life. […] I love everybody that works there. They don’t do this for themselves, they do what they do to genuinely improve someone else’s life,” shared Tanya.
To celebrate Mother’s Day, Urban Upbound is lifting up the voices of mothers and listening to their particular stories and challenges during the pandemic. We have spoken with several mothers who have benefited from our services. This past year has been hard for everyone, but parents have had to endure additional challenges. Follow our Instagram page to read more stories or subscribe to our newsletter. You can also donate to keep our services running for the New Yorkers who need them the most!