April Story of the Month: Learning to Smile Again

Gabriel* came home from the LifeSTEPS After School Program (ASP) talking a mile a minute! He dropped his backpack by the door, exclaimed all his homework was done in his loudest “inside” voice, and hurried to the kitchen to share the highlights of his day with his mom and grandma. His words were mostly in Spanish with a sprinkling of English as he told them about the new friend he had met in ASP.

His grandmother, Martina*, could not help but smile and think to herself just how much her grandson had changed over the last two years — in fact, she was beginning to notice she too had changed.

When Martina came to live at the Orchard View Apartments in Holtville, California, she felt lost. She and her adult daughter had moved with her daughter’s two young children from Mexicali, Mexico, after losing her son in a tragic car accident. Still numb with grief and now living in a new culture, Martina’s grief overwhelmed her life and sunk her into depression. She had left her old life behind in Mexico — but taken her sadness with her.

A slight crack of sunshine in Martina’s otherwise dark world came at Thanksgiving. Her daughter had noticed the flyer for Orchard View’s Thanksgiving potluck in the laundry room and convinced her mother to take a chance and attend. At the potluck, the family stuck close together — listening to the friendly chatter of their neighbors, but only as outside observers. This caught the attention of Araceli, Director of Social Services at Orchard View, and she decided to reach out.

That simple act of hospitality from Araceli was the first step for Martina to find her way out of her depression. Immediately she felt comfortable talking to Araceli and even opened up to share about the pain she was feeling since her son’s passing.  Martina took another leap and attended a LifeSTEPS health class. She found herself interested in learning more about living a healthy lifestyle — taking home tips to her family on healthy eating and exercise. Martina chatted with neighbors and began to notice the children playing in the playground. Their laughter brought sweet memories of her son as a child and instead of tears, she smiled.

Martina smiles now at Gabriel, standing next to her chopping vegetables. He is looking more and more like his uncle. Since attending the After School Program, Gabriel’s confidence has soared; his grades have improved and most importantly, he feels connected to his new home.

Martina is grateful for the new start in her life. She is grateful for the bright future her grandchildren have; for friends and neighbors to talk to and she is grateful for the love and memories of her son she brought with her to her new home.

*Names have been changed.

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