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Opportunity Knocks: Jessie’s Journey to the STEPS Program at St. Anthony’s

February 22, 2024

My name is Jessie, and I am currently in Guest Services at St. Anthony Foundation. I have been in this role since last summer through St. Anthony’s STEPS program (St. Anthony’s Employment Pathways to Stability). The STEPS program includes pre-employment training, transitional employment, on-the-job training, job retention and career coaching, and after-care follow-up. If all goes well, I will be working in a full-time core job in Guest Services at the end of the 6-8 month temporary employment period. My experience at St. Anthony’s has been very positive. I look forward to coming to work every day and really feel that I have found my calling in helping others. I didn’t always know this, however, and it took some time and a lot of hardship to come to this point in my life, but I am here now, and for that, I’m grateful. 

In early 2023, I arrived in San Francisco, eager to start anew and leave my past behind. San Francisco felt like the right place to start over again, and I had a lot of faith that I would be able to create a meaningful life here. While shopping for a new backpack, I mistook the Goodwill Career Center at 750 Post Street for a retail store. The mistake was serendipitous. At Goodwill, they learned I was job hunting and referred me to the STEPS program at St. Anthony’s.

I was filled with optimism, hope for the future, and a determination to forge a new life I could take pride in, marking a stark contrast to the life I left behind.

Jessie stands outside St. Anthony's

I was born in 1978 in Santa Cruz, California, where I grew up in an incredibly tumultuous family environment. My childhood was shadowed by domestic violence and substance abuse. Early on, I had to learn to navigate emotional struggles and instability alone. This led to a childhood that was characterized by profound emotional struggles and shame due to a lack of a stable, nurturing home atmosphere.

Adolescence brought its own trials. My family was constantly moving, never allowing me more than a year to settle into one place, so friendships were nonexistent. Chaos surrounded me. I developed codependent relationships with other dangerous teenagers who were committing serious crimes, and I felt like I had to commit them myself in order to be accepted and contribute my share. I hated this but felt I had no other option. I acted without considering the consequences, driven by what I believed was necessary for survival and to maintain friendships.

I got caught up in criminal activity in the midst of an adolescent search for identity, which did not end well. Tragically, when I was 18, a terrible accident occurred for which I was responsible, which resulted in a 25-year prison sentence. Words cannot describe the heartache I felt on that first day in prison.

Jessie practices CPR on a test dummy

While in prison, I acknowledged the missteps of my youth pretty much right away. I didn’t blame anyone else but myself, which was a hard pill to swallow. I needed to make the best of my situation, and prison became a turning point for me. There, I realized the need for change and embarked on a path of self-recovery, seeking mental health support and striving to turn my life around. I was released after a very long 25 years at the beginning of 2023 at 43 years old and immediately placed in housing here in San Francisco through reentry services for the recently incarcerated. It was then that I started to explore the city and discovered the STEPS program.

The STEPS program has allowed me to find not just a job, but a mission. This sets it apart from other workforce development and transitional employment programs. The team is incredibly knowledgeable and teaches not just hard skills but soft skills as well, pertaining to emotional intelligence, regulation, self-care, and working with others. I’m here to help others like me, and I feel like I have something I can offer society. My role in Guest Services allows me to connect with people facing similar challenges, using my past experiences to empathize and support them.

My time at St. Anthony’s is not just about rehabilitation but also about giving back and being part of a community that fosters growth and healing. 

With the help of the STEPS program and other supportive members of the St. Anthony’s community, I am developing a long-term career plan for the first time in my life that I feel confident I can achieve. My goal is to become a Companion in the Companionship Program and walk with others like me through their recovery journey and rehabilitation back into society. St. Anthony’s is the only institution with a program quite like this, and having this long-term support as a current program participant makes all of the difference in the world.

Reflecting on my journey, I recognize the pivotal role the St. Anthony’s STEPS program has in giving me a foundation and the tools I need to start my new life. I wouldn’t be here without the help I received, and St. Anthony’s has had a huge impact on my life. The experience of being a part of the St. Anthony’s community is teaching me the value of compassion and understanding, lessons I now apply in my work and personal growth. Looking towards the future, I remain committed to my role at St. Anthony’s and aspire to inspire and support others who are striving to make a new life for themselves. 

Your support helps to ensure that everyone in San Francisco has access to the services and welcoming community they need to flourish. Please help us continue uplifting San Franciscans through programs like STEPS by giving today.

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