Primavera staff member turns her life around, helps others

Raquel Aguayo is a different person than she was a decade ago, and much of that is due to her determination and resilience.

But a big part of her transformation is also tied to the Primavera Foundation, which Raquel says helped her get her life in order and now provides her employment. Primavera has been assisting people in the Tucson area with housing, work and community services for 40 years.

Raquel’s struggles started over 10 years ago when the father of her five children was sentenced to prison, and she was having trouble securing work. She started using illicit substances more and more and, subsequently, lost custody of her children. Eventually, she became homeless. As her life spiraled, there was a cancer diagnosis and a drug-related arrest. Today, Raquel is employed at the Primavera men’s shelter, has housing, and lives with her children. Her health is better, and she’s putting the criminal case behind her. “She’s been through a lot, but she also understood that there’s a way out,” said Reyna Leon, director of Primavera’s shelter programs and one of the people Raquel says helped her most. “She’s a fighter.” Raquel moved to Primavera’s Casa Paloma, a women’s shelter, in June 2021 after spending time in a Tucson residential treatment center. Within a short time, Raquel started a temporary, part-time job at the men’s shelter through Primavera’s employment program, Primavera Works. The job was a good fit for Raquel because she was on federal probation and finding a job outside the organization was going to be tough, Reyna recalled. Raquel began adjusting to a new way of living, and did well. As her life grew more predictable and stable, she longed for another chance with her children. She shared her reunification dreams with Reyna, who suggested Raquel move to Primavera’s Family Pathways, a 90-day housing program for people with children. From there, Raquel moved into rapid-rehousing through a community partner, Our Family Services, a move that allowed her to stay in the same unit with her name on the lease. Today, Our Family Services is trying to get Raquel a permanent housing voucher so she can become established in housing that’s more long-term, Reyna said. How quickly people move through Primavera’s steps and programs varies, but staff do their best to help the community and as many people as possible, Reyna said. “I think it has a lot to do with the dedication and the drive to actually want to complete the goals,” she said, adding that Raquel has moved through each step with determination.   “She’s dedicated, she’s flexible,” Reyna said. “She’s a very good example as far as someone wanting to do better for herself and for her family.” Raquel says her job as a residential team leader at Primavera is exactly what she needs at this time. Like many of the people she helps, Raquel’s life has long been complicated by significant challenges of poverty, violence, homelessness and illness. It’s what makes her suited for this work, she said. Part of her job is ensuring the shelter is secure and the people staying there are safe. Raquel also helps participants prepare individual plans so they have goals and work to expand their social networks and friendships. Those are themes she knows well, and she helps others who are in predicaments similar to the ones she faced a few years ago. Raquel’s life is now focused on helping others, staying sober, her children, her job, exploring new ideas and looking for opportunities, she says. “I’m sober, I’m employed, I have my kids back,” she said. “God has given me every opportunity I missed when I was getting high.”
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