When Tiarra Barrera-Hammond was in her early 20s, she’d just arrived in California and struggled to make ends meet. As the mother of two little children, she’d been living with her partner in Las Vegas, but she’d had to leave with nothing. “I was just trying to get away,” she explains, looking back now. It was tough. “I had no established residence at all. I was homeless. I’d walk and wander, wander round the city..”
She had a friend who worked nights at WalMart, “and I would sleep in her car in the parking lot while holding my daughter on my chest”. In the morning, she’d be out. “I felt like the world was ending… I felt my life was over.”
Now, her life looks very different, she explains in the video below and this earlier one, recorded after Goodwill in Southern Los Angeles County selected her as one of its five Annual Awards winners last year.
Tiarra is a Registered Nurse today, and works at Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. These days she’s in a position to help other people – “cardiac patients, people who come in with chest pain, respiratory distress”. Just this month, Goodwill honored her as its 2016 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year at its Shining Stars Banquet.
Getting there wasn’t easy, but she made it thanks to meeting people who trusted her. Once she’d found a home for her family when she was accepted to a low-cost housing complex in Long Beach, it was an employee of the Goodwill office there who gave her the first, crucial nudge.
She told her, “Let’s see what you can do!” and encouraged her to take an assessment test, telling her she’d be perfect for the Goodwill Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) training program. Tiarra took the test, got in, and received a scholarship, tutorial assistance and support services. “Goodwill gave me everything I needed to become a nurse,” she says now. Suddenly she had a direction, somewhere to go, and the prospect of “an exciting new career in healthcare that helped me support myself and my children.”
When she finished the CNA program, Tiarra decided she wanted to be a Registered Nurse. She says she’d always liked helping people, and it was when she gave birth to her first daughter that it had first struck her: “oh, I want to do this, I want to do what she’s doing!” But back then, the idea seemed “far-fetched,” she says in last year’s video: “I heard the rumors, nursing school will be so difficult”.
So she started off taking one class at the community college, “just to see what I can do”. It was an anatomy class. “It was unbelievable .. I memorized the bones, the muscles – everything just intrigued me!” She got an A. “That was so fun! You know, the body is so amazing. I applied at the nursing program at the college and I got in right away.”
She earned her degree from the Associate Degree nursing program of Long Beach City College (LBCC) two years later, and then passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nursing. Graduating helped her gain back “all her confidence,” she says.
After being invited to the Shining Stars Banquet, Tiarra wrote on Facebook, “I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped and continue to help me to develop into the woman that I am becoming.”
Tiarra is now married and her older children have a 19-month old baby brother. “My kids are proud of me,” she beams. “When you’re talking to people and then your kid comes up like, ‘my mum’s a nurse!”, that’s just really cool”.
The president and CEO of Goodwill SOLAC, Janet McCarthy, said that “Tiarra is a role model for other Goodwill CNA students and we are proud of her hard work and the determination she demonstrated to earn her RN license”.
Tierra’s message? “If you have the focus and the drive, .. then whatever you’re thinking – all that negativity, it’s not true”.