Book of Dreams

Welcome baskets sought for people turning their lives around

Lynda Ruesga at her three-bedroom transitional unit at the Volunteers of America community campus at Mather, Calif., on Monday, November 28, 2016. “Everyone here is so helpful,” Ruesga said. “The staff’s been the key to helping me turn it around.”
Lynda Ruesga at her three-bedroom transitional unit at the Volunteers of America community campus at Mather, Calif., on Monday, November 28, 2016. “Everyone here is so helpful,” Ruesga said. “The staff’s been the key to helping me turn it around.” mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Editor’s note: For nearly 30 years, The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams.

Before she checked herself into to a recovery program run by Volunteers of America, Lynda Ruesga, a 32-year-old mom with two girls, ages 13 and 11, tried hard to do it all herself.

She always worked, sometimes two or three jobs at once, hoping to stay clean and save up enough money to get a home of her own. But addiction to various drugs and its lifestyle kept dragging her back, tossing her from couch to couch, friend’s floor, garage – “I moved about 25 times,” she said.

Ruesga admits she’s stubborn, “so stubborn that not even my family wanted to approach me about getting clean,” but she had hit bottom and wanted a way out. “That’s what VOA gave me.”

She entered the first of a series of programs VOA provides to get people off the streets and into housing and employment on Feb. 10, 2015.

Her ex-husband and his new wife took in the girls; they weren’t too far away and their schools “were just down the street,” so she could see them every day as she completed her recovery, enrolled in a job-training program, and moved into a VOA apartment.

“It’s major to be able to cook dinner and it’s just us,” she said of her place, which has allowed her girls to live with her and be a family again. “When you live with other people, they’re always getting into your stuff. You never know if the food you bought will still be there. This way, I know.

“Everyone here is so helpful,” Ruesga said. “The staff’s been the key to helping me turn it around.”

Ana Bankert, community relations manager for Volunteers of America-Northern California & Northern Nevada, said she’s happy with Ruesga’s progress, but wishes that she had more to offer the families that VOA resettles.

She said the VOA has a grant to provide resettled veterans with a welcome basket that includes dishes, utensils, pots, pans and cleaning supplies, but there aren’t funds to do a similar basket for the other families VOA helps with its Rapid Rehousing Program.

Bankert would like to give the families more of a leg up to get them back on their feet and make the apartments feel a little more homey. She said VOA serves more than 100 families in this particular program; it shelters 1,800 people daily.

In three months, Ruesga will graduate from the truck-driving school VOA operates on its Mather campus.

“Really, I wanted to work with heavy machinery, drive a forklift or something, but trucks are pretty big, and that’s what they offered classes. When I get my commercial learning permit, my cousin’s going to let me drive his taco truck on weekends for practice.”

Despite her hardscrabble life, Ruesga is confident she can reach her goals, handle setbacks that used to drive her to self-medicate, provide a more stable home for her girls and “do better to get better.”

Bankert said, ”We try to bring the whole person back together. The employment program here is a huge motivator. We counted 670 people employed in the past 20 months.”

Still, when they come home from work, they have to eat. Bankert said welcome baskets to start up a proper kitchen would be a big help.

Editor’s note: This story was changed Dec. 7 to correct the time frame in which the 670 people landed jobs via the VOA’s employment program.

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Book of Dreams has been helping people in our community for nearly 30 years. Each year during the holidays, the Sacramento Bee publishes stories of people and nonprofits in need. The dreams can be simple, such as cribs for children, a bike for a

The request

Needed: 100 welcome baskets containing a set of dishes, utensils, pots, pans and cleaning supplies.

Cost: $1,000

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