Updated: Apr 3, 2022
TheCIL's former Executive Assistant and Development Director, Huong Nguyen, spoke with one of our members, Jose, about his time with us.
HUONG: How were things before getting involved with TheCIL?
JOSE: I was in a really tough situation. I’d just finished my outpatient treatment and was going to therapy but my insurance ran out. Washington State Division of child support then garnished my disability checks and I didn’t have the means to support myself. I was homeless and, because of past decisions, had a DUI on my record, so I couldn’t own or drive a car, and that really limited my mobility options.
HUONG: Yeah, that’s tough.
JOSE: Yeah, the mental health difficulties and trying to make sense of the unfairness of the process, and not having the means to support myself was really hard. Meeting Geoff was a godsend.
HUONG: How did you find out about TheCIL and Geoff?
JOSE: He used to visit Bay Area Community Services over in Pleasanton where I used to live. He gave me good advice when all kinds of barriers blocked me from receiving pro bono legal support - he gave me specific advice with tangible options about the Working Disabled program and ways that I could get back on my feet. I received valuable advice from Thomas and Jenny as well.
HUONG: Did you always want to go back to school?
JOSE: I met with Geoff in my early stages of being released from the hospital, when I was trying to make some sense of life where I was. I was taking baby steps, and Geoff’s guidance helped me sort out how to work without jeopardizing my disability check. I had to make sure I still had income for my kids. Since I was diagnosed with a permanent disability, Geoff helped me navigate how I’m able to get survivor benefits with social security. I’d been working with him on sorting out the basic necessities for about a year, and I went from being in the hospital to working in housekeeping and then to
horticulture at a plant nursery. In the hospital I felt like I had much more potential to give humanity, myself, and my kids. I didn’t wanna be seen as somebody that had no redeeming values, so that’s the context in which I contacted Geoff. Then I met with Stuart at your office in Alameda, and he sat with me for over an hour just hearing my life and perspective. He gave me the most useful bit of life advice, which was that I didn’t need to be wearing my disability on my sleeves, and that it doesn’t define me.
I knew I was capable of more than what my doctor said, so we looked into my options and found a PhD in language, literacy, and technology program at Washington State that didn’t require a Master’s degree.
HUONG: So this all happened in the last six months [from the date of the interview].
JOSE: Yeah. The chronology of how I was destitute, settling for a $12/hr job where I had to bike 11 miles each way from home to work, which many social services saw as a success, and putting the effort in to get out of my situation. I just felt like there was something else for me.
HUONG: Right. I’m so glad it worked out.
JOSE: So many Bay Area organizations, like Bay Area Community Services, Bay Area Legal Aid, La Familia, have helped me so much. I’ve been able to slowly reconnect with my daughters, get my driving privileges restored, and get more than a part time job. Social services were all telling me to aim for one thing, but I knew what I was capable of.
Stuart, Thomas, and Geoff encouraged me to believe in myself and look beyond what I was being told. Stuart told me to erase the mentality I’d been fed. That’s the kind of support I got from TheCIL, you know it was not only life-changing but fulfilling in an emotional and spiritual way. It’s not about what happened to me, it’s about what drives me. I was always treated like a professional, not somebody whose in need. TheCIL is so different from other social services that I’ve been privileged to receive.
So it’s not just my story, but a community story.