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Sonia Benitez

Like many mothers, Sonia Benitez, 43, has always been the core of her family unit.

“In Mexico, I wanted better opportunity,” said Sonia. “I didn’t have a solid education and was not able to find a secure job.”

At the age of 18, Sonia came to Houston in search of a brighter future. Within a few years, she was married, became a mother, and earned her GED, but finding the type of work she wanted remained a challenge. For 13 years, Sonia worked part time as a school cafeteria worker in the East End.

“I enjoyed the work, I was able to work during the same hours while the children were in school,” said Sonia. “Now that they are older, I would like to do something I know I can do – administration or clerical work.”

It was that desire for a career that brought Sonia to SER.

“I found out about SER through a friend of mine; I thought that maybe [SER] could do the same for me as done for my friend,” said Sonia. “I was really interested in the BankWork$ program, but I arrived at SER once registration had ended.”

“Although I couldn’t start the BankWork$ program, I was given information on the office administration class, that was enrolling soon [December cohort] and decided that it would be a great starting point,” said Sonia.

Sonia was apprehensive about joining the office administration class due to the class being only taught in English. Spanish, Sonia’s native language, was what she felt the most comfortable with.

“This was my first time taking an all-English class of any kind,” said Sonia. “I was nervous because I did not think that I was going to be able to keep up and be a good student.”

Despite those reservations, Sonia was determined to set a good example for her sons, Andreas (19) and Abner (22).

“Completion of the office administration class gave me the courage to apply myself even harder and go against my own doubts,” said Sonia.

 After graduation, Sonia was presented with an offer to work for SER as a Front Desk intern, which would give her the opportunity to gain on-the-job training experience and help acclimate her into a more professional setting.

“Sonia is very dedicated,” said David Fernandez, SER Program Coordinator. “I would always see Sonia practicing her ESL (English as a Second Language) materials during her downtime at SER.”

Sonia currently attends Community Family Center’s ESL classes Monday through Thursday, where she has progressed and shown major improvements.

“Sonia has begun intermingling more with her classmates and learning how to conduct business presentations to reflect what she will be doing in an office setting,” said David. “This is helping her tremendously on her soft skills and giving her the assurance she needs for when it’s time for her to go for an interview.”

Over time, Sonia learned about more opportunities for herself and her children as well.

“Being a mother is not easy, but I want to show my sons where hard work will lead them,” said Sonia. “Each child is different, you can’t treat one as you would treat the other. My kids are total opposites of each other, but the love for one another is amazing.”

Like many teenagers, Andreas struggled in high school and fell in with the wrong crowd. After much discussion and at the suggestion of the school, the family chose to withdraw Andreas from his high school. Sonia and her husband thought it would be best for Andreas to complete his GED training with SER’s YouthBuild Houston program, where the coursework was tailored uniquely to his needs and there were fewer distractions.

“Andreas is to himself most of the time and is more reserved. Abner is the total opposite – very eager and family oriented,” said Sonia. “Andreas strives for independence but he needs extra attention and guidance when it comes to his school work… I know that he will be happy in the YouthBuild program at SER. He wants to go the more vocational route for construction or engineering [rather] than pursing a four year college like his brother.”

 “Abner is a bright kid, but he really needed help to fine tune a few aspects of his soft/hard skills such as speaking to a group of people, interviewing techniques, and being confident in his answers,” said David.

SER’s BankWork$ program was the perfect place for Abner to refine those skills and Sonia still wanted to pursue the BankWork$ training as a career opportunity, so the two decided to enroll as classmates.

“I never thought that I would be sharing a class with my son – it felt very weird,” said Sonia. “But Abner was very excited for me and helped encourage me along the way. Even though we were in the same class, I wanted to give him space and allow him to make friends. We would talk about the class material each day and go over our notes together like a team - we were in this together – it made me feel special to have my son by my side.”

After the March BankWork$ program graduation, Abner was offered a position as a Teller with Capital One.

Andreas enrolled with YouthBuild in February 2017 and is on track to completing his GED. On the weekends, Andreas works with the Houston Food bank to obtain on-the-job work experience as well as income to support himself.

“My dream is for my children to be happy and successful in any job that they have no matter how big or small their role is,” said Sonia. “I owe everything to SER.”

“SER has given my family hope, [a new outlook on life], and self-confidence. Without SER, I do not know where my family would be; SER has impacted my family a lot.”

“My kids are more inspired than they have ever been; you can just see how much they are improving in their confidence from when they first started their programs to now,” said Sonia. “The kids are really empowered and feel as though they can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it. I didn’t have those opportunities afforded to me when I was younger, so I want my children to be different.”

With both of her sons obtaining work experience and careers through SER, Sonia is finding time to look at her own goals.

“At my 40th birthday, I realized that I was halfway through my life,” said Sonia. “I have a beautiful family and my kids are able to take care of themselves now. It’s time for me to [focus on] myself [a bit].”