[su_label type=”info”]Community in Focus [/su_label]

Priscilla Lenares at San Francisco Mission Branch Library, California Tuesday July 19, 2016. Photo Jessica Webb

Reading is my one true love in life. My grandma taught me how to read at a very young age; I can’t recall a time when I haven’t been able to read for comfort or inspiration. Even in times of deep depression, books have helped me see a little bit of light.

I spent two years living in a women’s transitional housing program called the Good Shepherd Gracenter located here in San Francisco. After losing my mother in 2011, I fell into a deep depression and needed some extra help to pull myself out of the abyss. I started getting better, mostly because I was around other women who were also trying to better themselves. These women became some of my best friends.

One, in particular, I will never forget. We met in October of 2014; she was new to the house and we didn’t know anything about each other. One day she sat down next to me, introduced herself as Priscilla and said: “I just finished my first book.”

Priscilla Lenares had moved to San Francisco from Bakersfield in the spring of 2014, when she was 28, to begin her road to recovery. Of Mexican and Native American descent, the first step in her journey began at the Friendship House Association of American Indians located in the Mission District on Julian Avenue between 14th and 15th streets.

“I didn’t graduate high school, I was addicted and depressed. I have children and didn’t know how to be a mother to them,” Priscilla said. “I needed a change and found out about the Friendship House from a clinic nurse in Bakersfield. So I came here to start trying to change my life.”

At Friendship House, she began connecting to herself again spiritually and with a sober mind. But there was another piece of recovery that her counselors encouraged her to explore: pursuing an education.

“I quickly fell behind in school when I was younger,” Priscilla said. “I used to hide my shoes so I wouldn’t have to go. The more I fell behind, the more insecure I felt about going.”

But there was a teacher from the Five Keys Charter School—a program that offers high school diplomas and GEDs to non-traditional students—that taught classes at Friendship House.

“There was a really cute guy in the program and he was going to school,” Priscilla admitted. “So I thought maybe I should go too.”

On the first day of class the teacher handed her a reading packet, and she quickly realized what she had signed herself up for.

“Reading has always been a struggle for me,” she said. “I really did not know how to read. I had to tell the teacher this and she told me not to worry. That we would do everything together.”

Soon the crush wasn’t Priscilla’s focus anymore and she committed herself to earning her diploma.

After completing her recovery plan at Friendship House she moved to Gracenter, but working two jobs cut into her school time and she found herself losing sight of the commitment she initially made to herself. Still she tried reading books on her own, yearning to learn. Then an offer for employment as weekend house manager at Friendship House opened up her weekdays for school, and she recommitted herself to her goal.

In the homestretch of completing her diploma, when she struggled with the last reading packets on restorative justice, Priscilla again reached out to her teacher like she did on that first day. “I’m not getting it,” she said.

Her teacher assured her that she would get through it, and she did.

Priscilla received her high school diploma from the Five Keys Charter School in June, three months after her 30th birthday. She was a speaker at the graduation ceremony where she shared some of her story. She’s now house manager at Friendship House and encourages her clients to take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by Five Keys. Reading still requires practice, but she checks out books from the library and continues to push herself to read.

She’s also pushing herself as a mother.

“Now that I am taking better care of myself, I can be the mother that I have always wanted to be,” Priscilla said. “I have so much to give to my children now… It is never too late to better yourself and there can always be second chances in life.”

My friendship with Priscilla has changed me on a deep level. I appreciate my love for reading more than ever, and it’s inspired me to work at subjects that are challenging. I’ve started trying to read more in Spanish. I also write this column, which does not come easily to me.

Priscilla’s story is a reminder to always remain teachable. We are all students and can learn so much from each other.