TURLOCK — When Barbara Olave isnt working at We Care, which operates the homeless mens cold-weather shelter in Turlock, shes teaching at California State University, Stanislaus.
OK, we get it. Shes busy. But theres a story behind her success that goes to the heart of why A Book of Dreams, now in its 24th year, is so near and dear to The Modesto Bee and, we believe, important to the community. Today a Bee special section details the agencies whose clients will benefit from the money raised through this annual effort.
Last year, A Book of Dreams contributions totaled $62,249, besting by $37 the previous high set a decade earlier. For the sake of benevolence, lets just presume the economy is a bit better than in years past, and that another new record is well within the reach of wallets and checkbooks throughout the Valley.
Does it help? Ask Olave, a 50-year-old Denair resident rebounding from the depths of homelessness. She, her husband at the time and their three sons moved to the Valley more than a decade ago. They had a nice home. Things were going well. But everything changed beginning in 2004. Olaves marriage and life fell apart. They lost their home to foreclosure. Her husband left her to raise the boys alone.
In 2006, she used her last $300 to buy an old Chevy Blazer that became home, complete with great curbside appeal and a big side yard if you consider that the curbs were alongside Crane and Columbia parks in Turlock.
People came and played in the park, she said. Everybody else went home. We went to sleep in the Blazer.
They settled as a family into a life theyd never imagined, living in the Blazer, the kids going to school, mom trying to hold it all together.
(My sons) birthdays were not easy, she said, when you have to say I cant afford to give you a birthday cake.
The life-changer, she said, was the United Samaritans lunch truck that came to the park. The organization is among those receiving money from A Book of Dreams contributions in years past.
I called it just a little piece of normal, she said. There was no shame. Everybody was getting lunch.
When Thanksgiving came around, they received a dinner with all of the trimmings from the food truck. By that time, shed begun volunteering at the United Samaritans facility on Broadway in downtown Turlock, doing whatever they needed preparing meals, working in the clothing section.
She began dating Phil Miholancan, a plumber. They are now engaged. The family was able to get off the streets, first into a motel and then into a small rental home. She traded in the Blazer for a minivan and for three years delivered The Bee to help makes ends meet.
The folks at United Samaritans, she said, helped her in many ways most important being that they were supportive and encouraging.
Every step of the way, someone believes in you, she said. Thats the most inspirational thing.
The agencies in 2011 connected her with the We Care Program, which hired her to help manage the cold-weather mens homeless shelter in Turlock.
Shelter manager Debbie Gutierrez said Olave brings experience to the job.
I have the highest regard for her, Gutierrez said. Shes been homeless. Shes been there, done that. She gets it. Ive never been in a homeless position. I dont get it.
Many who do get it cant find a way out of it. With emotional and sometimes financial support from Westside Ministries, and encouragement from the folks at United Samaritans, she returned to school in 2007. She began at Modesto Junior College, moving on to complete her undergraduate degree in sociology and gerontology from California State University, Stanislaus, in 2010. She earned her masters degree in public administration last May.
She now teaches one sociology class at the university this semester and will teach two more in the spring.
I absolutely adore teaching sociology, she said.
And being engaged. She and Miholancan, whose plumbing business is growing, will be married in May.
And living in a home they purchased in Denair a roof over their heads that doesnt have wheels beneath. And seeing son Arizona, 19, at Modesto Junior College; and Dakota, 18, and Indiana, 16, both attending high school.
Im so proud of the boys, she said.
Hers is a story that reflects what can happen when people get the kind of help and encouragement they need to begin rebuilding their lives.
A Book of Dreams helps the agencies that help dreams become realities.