In the blink of an eye, Janice Brooks went from stable employment to having to sleep on the floor of a homeless shelter with her two grandchildren. Climbing back from those difficult circumstances was made possible thanks to an opportunity from SER.
A native of Chicago, 60 year-old Janice Brooks has been in Houston for 29 years. Back home she had worked for 18 years at the US Department of Labor. “I came here thinking that I could just transition,” she says. “But I couldn't. I didn't wind up getting that job, so I started temp working.” What followed was an 11 year career at Stein Mart, which started with her working in the very first Houston store the chain opened, and ended with Janice as a store Assistant Manager.
Janice then switched careers and started taking care of elderly individuals. “I had a private duty patient. I cooked, cleaned for him. Bathed him, put him in bed.” When his client passed away, Janice then took over the house manager duties for a home with eight individuals, all between 69 and 80 years old. “I was a live-in. They just needed somebody to make sure they take their medications, make they sure they bathe, and cook for them,” she says.
But here is where things took a very quick turn for the worse. Janice’s daughter was involved in a police incident, and wound up in jail. “It was just a tragedy,” Janice says. The immediate consequence of her daughter’s incarceration was that Janice’s two grandchildren became her direct responsiblity. But since she couldn’t move the boys, then 15 and 10 years old, in with her, Janice had to quit her job. Star of Hope seemed like her only option.
A Houston organization devoted to finding solutions for homelessness, Star of Hope
provided Janice and her grandsons the stability they needed in this moment of crisis. “Me and the boys, we slept on the floor for maybe a week. They make you sleep on the floor on mats to see if you really, really need help,” she remembers. “After that they got us a room.”
But Star of Hope wasn’t just a place to stay. “They just don't let you stay there and do nothing,” Janice says. “You gotta go to these classes. You gotta go to these seminars. If you don't, they'll put you out. Makes sense, huh?”
It was Star of Hope that referred Janice to The WorkFaith Connection
, where not only did she complete an 8-day job readiness program, but got in touch with SER. A great candidate for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), Janice was told she could earn a stipend while honing her clerical skills by taking part in the program. She remembers Yolanda Cano, SCSEP Career Coach, telling her “come over here and help us!"
At SER, Janice quickly took advantage of the friendly atmosphere to learn as much as she could. “When I needed to know something, someone was right there for me. I could just come and ask. I never forget anybody who showed me something. I would write down how to do it, and then just go back to my notes. That's how I learned.”
Being a part of the SCSEP program allowed Janice and her grandsons to move to a better living situation. “(Star of Hope) charged me $127 for a 3 bedroom apartment. The only thing it didn’t have was a stove and a refrigerator. Because all the food is free: they make your lunch for you when you go to work, they feed you breakfast, a nice dinner, they give you snacks, drinks, all kinds of stuff. Shoes, clothes, everything you need.”
With this arrangement and the income from SER, Janice managed to save some money. After three years, she had saved $2700. By then, her daughter was out of prison, so they were all able to move out of the Star of Hope apartment.
Still, Janice wasn’t satisfied. Fully aware that the SCSEP program lasts only four years, she was actively looking for a permanent position. “I've been putting in 10 to 11 job searches every week. I can't imagine how many searches I did online, through word of mouth, or on the telephone. I even wrote some letters to get a job.” Eventually, one opportunity worked out. Janice was hired to be an Administrative Assistant at We are Caring Heart, a nonprofit focused on care for the elderly. Why work at a place like that? “I wanted to work at a non-profit where I could give back. Cause they helped me so much,” she says
With her life fully back on track, Janice dreams big. Thanks to the advice of SER Workforce Development Lead Rene Hernandez, Janice is “working with the Tejano Center
to get me a house. I just have to bring up my credit score a little bit. But probably by next year in February, I want to be in my own home.”
Given Janice’s determination and strong work ethic, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against her.