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The only thing better than being given a chance? Being given a second chance.

September 8, 2023

“I love people, I’m always very hyper,” said Adlin Villalba, a case manager with Multicultural Community Services of the Pioneer Valley and 2023 graduate of Way Finders’ Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. “But in 2018, I was at a stage in my life where I didn’t care about anything. I had people around me through Way Finders, they liked me so much they gave me a second chance. My first time in the program, I didn’t graduate. But here I am! I’m so happy I was allowed to join it again. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here telling my story.” 

Her Way Finders story starts in 2008, with a long-awaited phone call.  

“My mom had just left to move to Florida, I was on my own with two kids, I didn’t have a place to go. I was basically going to be homeless. Three days later, I received a call about my getting my Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher,” said Villalba, who had been waiting 10 years. “It was a big thing for me, to be able to find an apartment, it was so exciting.” 

We spoke with Villalba on another exciting day: her formal graduation day from the FSS Program, when she received a sizeable escrow check. (An escrow account is established as a participant’s income and share of rent increase, and may be used by graduates toward education or a home, for example.) 

“I told my boss it’s a special day, I took the day off,” said Villalba, who works 60 hours a week—40 hours at the homes of a dozen clients, giving individual support, and 20 hours in a residential setting. “I work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. I have a great job, I’ve been there eight years now. I love what I do, I love helping my clients out. They deal with so much. I’m there to support them, help them grow, and let them be themselves.”  

More recently, Villalba, a resident of Chicopee and mother of four, needed extra support herself. After accomplishing nearly all her program goals, guided since 2019 by FSS Program Specialist Sonia Colon, Villalba started drifting away. Not showing up, not communicating. 

“I lost my brother two months before I found out I was pregnant with my youngest,” said Villalba, through tears. “I was very close to him. My baby, he has my brother’s attitude and everything. He’s so cute, he’s such a happy baby. He turned one in August. He has brought happiness to my life.” 

But after the birth of her son in 2022, Villalba began experiencing postpartum depression for the first time—on top of her grief. 

“It hit me really bad, I didn’t know what it was, I thought I was going crazy or whatnot. I wasn’t eating, I was calling out of work and making excuses. I just wanted to be home,” said Villalba. “But I was able to find myself, I put myself in therapy, I’m still going. I was drinking a lot, so I joined AA meetings, I do that twice a week. I’ve been through a lot. But I’m here!” 

“I didn’t want to lose her!” said Colon. “I mean, she’d completed everything. For the amount of money she had in escrow, I was like, ‘How can she lose this?’ I was leaving messages left and right.” 

“Sonia means a lot to me, she’s like a mom to me. She inspires me, she pushes me. She’s like, ‘You have to get this done! You have to complete this! Do you want to succeed, do you want to move up in life?’” said Villalba. “I love Sonia, she’s the best worker I’ve ever had.”  

To have someone care so much about her and her future, Villalba explains, feels different.  

“Because I never had that. I never had a support system. And people in my life, they didn’t see potential in me. But I’m here to prove them wrong,” said Villalba. “You know, if I could do it, anybody can. When you have somebody who pushes you and vouches for you, it means a lot. It motivates you.” 

Villalba, who previously worked in retail at Rainbow Shops and Macy’s, is most proud of the steps she’s taken to improve her personal finances—including the completion of Way Finders’ Credit Success and First-time Homebuyers workshops.  

“My credit at one point was really bad, like 400 or something. Now I’m above 650. It took a long time, a lot of steps. I love shopping, I used to shop and buy, I wasn’t really on point with everything,” said Villalba. “But I was able to become responsible. Like by paying my bills on time, not using more than 30 percent of my available credit. And now I write everything down. I’m more grown, I’m more successful in life. I know what to do.” 

She also knows what to do when it comes to sharing the news of her FSS graduation with her family. In addition to her baby and 14-year-old son, who live at home, Villalba has a 21-year-old daughter who works at Baystate and a 24-year-old son who is a chef at a local restaurant. 

“They don’t know about my big day! I wanted to surprise them. I think I’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s go out to eat! Olive Garden? On the Border?’ They’ll probably be like, ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are you pregnant?’” laughed Villalba. “You know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I’ve disappointed my kids sometimes in the past. With this surprise, I want to be able to say, ‘Boom! I did this, you guys! I worked hard, I put my all into it.’ I’m happy today. I’m very excited.” 

When asked what she hopes for the future, Villalba’s goal of homeownership shines through: “I imagine my friends coming over, doing backyard cookouts, you know, in my house. Not somebody else’s. So I don’t have to go and plan in somebody else’s house. ‘No, we’re going to come to my house!’ I like all the gatherings, the memories, all that good stuff. I never had that growing up.”