Four months ago Michelle Zazueta had no home, no job and no hope. With the help of Wings of Hope, her dreams for a normal life with her children are taking flight.
"I prayed for years. I never wanted a great big, rich, grand life. I just wanted the chance to survive. I wanted a little help with my little family and a part-time job so I can have the time to take care of my son. Now me and my two boys are here and we are happy and comfortable and that is something I haven't had in 3 1/2 years, and I am very grateful," said Zazueta, 34.
She credits Wings of Hope founder Nadia Valle for helping her bring hope home to a two-bedroom apartment in central Tucson.
Valle, a social worker for the past 18 years, started the nonprofit Wings of Hope in June 2010 to empower women in Tucson and Southern Arizona to lead healthy and productive lives.
The group targets homeless women and people re-entering society post-rehabilitation.
"I want to teach these women that the welfare system is a bridge in life and not a path. It is not something that will support us. I want them to become strong, self-sufficient and independent so they can support themselves and their children," Valle said.
Wings of Hope uses a three-stage program that seeks to address basic needs for women and their families such as housing (ranging from transitional to permanent), education, skills development, substance-abuse counseling, case management, employment assistance and community re-integration.
Valle said the program attacks root causes of homelessness including poverty, domestic violence, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental illness and a lack of services.
"We give them up to two years to get their lives together instead of the 90 days most shelters give. In those two years we really prepare them to go out on their own: We teach them how to get a job, about financial literacy, how to be a better parent.
"We bring them in and give them a makeover and help them see that they are worth giving themselves a chance and teaching a skill," Valle said.
The organization partners with local businesses and other nonprofits such as Cope Community Services to provide client resources. It also relies heavily on a mentoring network of about 50 volunteers.
Valle said the mentors are a particularly inspiring source of mental and emotional support for clients and that their guidance and friendship builds confidence, encourages trust and helps clients learn how to develop healthy relationships.
Zazueta, who has worked with several other local programs for women, said Wings of Hope saved her life by encouraging communication "instead of pushing medication."
"It's not just so much what they have given me physically - clothes and furniture and everything else - but what they have given me emotionally. It is something no one else could give me and I couldn't give myself. Nadia has kept her promises. I thank God for her every day," she said. "If she had not come into my life I would not be here."
Zazueta is now hunting for an administrative job and caring for her sons, ages 8 and 14. She hopes to get a car and looks forward to simple pleasures such as taking her family out for pizza and a movie.
Although she is still working through issues stemming from a childhood filled with abuse, she is optimistic, thanks in large part to Valle.
"There are days where I will be down and it is like she knows. She texts me and cracks that whip and says, 'Get out and look for a job!' and 'Keep your head up!' I have the utmost respect for her, and I don't give that easily."
If you go
• What: A Star-Studded Night Gala and Silent Auction to Benefit Wings of Hope
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday
• Where: The Savoy Opera House, 6451 E. Tanque Verde Road
• Cost: $60 per person
• Etc.: Festivities include dinner and entertainment followed by keynote speaker Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-entry Project and a 2010 CNN Top Ten Hero, and guest speaker Brianna Karp, author of "The Girl's Guide to Homelessness."
All proceeds benefit the Wings of Hope Re-entry Program. For tickets or more information, go to www.wingsofhopetucson.com or call 406-6345.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com