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A granddaughter. An inspector. An Evelyn: Introducing 2022 FSS Program grad Wendy Padilla

December 19, 2022

“I always feel there’s no job you can’t do when you have children to support,” says 2022 Family Self-Sufficiency Program graduate Wendy Padilla of Springfield. “I would take any job as long as it brought in a paycheck.” 

The mother of two grown daughters, who has experience working in retail and the food industry, is raising her five-year-old granddaughter.  

“She loves kindergarten,” says Wendy, who received a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher in 2000, when she was living in a domestic violence shelter in Pittsfield. 

In 2017, when Housing Inspector John Nai made his annual visit to Wendy’s Forest Park apartment, he recognized her drive and resolve.  

“He’s the one who told me about the FSS Program and recommended me for it,” says Wendy, who started a new job with Longmeadow Country Club’s dining staff this fall. “At one point he was like, ‘I think that you would qualify, you seem like a good candidate.’” 

She wasn’t a good candidate. She was a great candidate: Open to new tools and tactics, especially those to help raise her credit and prepare her for homeownership. Open to certificate programs—including for food safety, first aid, and sign language. And—in the words of FSS Specialist Evelyn Baez—“creative, persistent, and innovative.” 

 

“I just applaud her, she’s a little bit humble, so I have to chime in,” says Evelyn, who began mentoring Wendy in early 2021. “At the end of the day, she’s always just trying to figure out, ‘How can I continue bringing financial resources to my family?’ Especially since she’s raising her granddaughter.” 

For Wendy, her creativity and persistence came to bear when she lost her restaurant job in April 2020.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought hardships for most, it did not do so equally: Women and people of color were disproportionately impacted by unemployment and loss of income, per the second study of the Greater Springfield Housing Report.  

“It was really hard for me, for everyone who works in restaurants, when the world closed down. I was like, ‘I’m not going to make it,’” says Wendy. “To keep myself afloat, I began cooking from my house. I was selling ten-dollar plates, delivering them myself.” 

Up at six to cook. Caring for a three-year-old. Taking orders and creating a weekly menu to suit the requests of customers—rice with gandules, pork shoulders, ceviche, gazpacho.  

“I remember those days, when we were all in our homes,” says Evelyn. “I was trying to save all my energy to motivate my participants. And I would always tell Wendy, ‘This is where we’re at now. It’s the unknown, but we’re going to get to the other side.’ And she jumped right into this side hustle. She figured, this is a skill that I have, I like to cook. How can I use it to my financial advantage?” 

“I didn’t see an end to the pandemic,” says Wendy. “But Evelyn always encouraged me to keep going forward, that I had it, that I was going to make it. I’m very grateful to her. And when the world reopened, I went back to work, at the Willy Ross School for the Deaf.” 

When Wendy graduated from the FSS Program at the end of September 2022, she met up with Evelyn at our Springfield Housing Center to receive her escrow check—established as a participant’s income and share of rent increase, to be put toward homeownership or entrepreneurship. Afterward, Wendy shed some tears in her car. The emotions of the day caught up to her.  

 

“I never thought I’d get to where I am now,” says Wendy. “It still surprises me. Before the program, honestly, I was just living day by day. I wasn’t even focused on anything for the future. It got me more focused on what I really want.”

Which is, hopefully in 2023, to become a homeowner. “I’m almost there,” Wendy says. “I’m going to wait until March to start that.” 

And someday, when Wendy brings a second goal to fruition—to open her own eatery, to be named Carmen’s Café, in honor of her mother—she better spread the word.   

“When Wendy opens that food truck, she better text me,” says Evelyn. “Because I’ll be jumping over there for lunch. I’m just excited for her, I’m happy for her. And I know the best is yet to come.” 

Best wishes to you, Wendy. 

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