Their Stories: Maria Angeles Lopez

The first time I came to the Harbor House, I came because I needed food. I was in an abusive relationship that was not very good for me or my children and I was not feeling good about myself at all. When my neighbor told me she was going to the Anaheim Harbor Family Resource Center for food, I decided to go with her. When I arrived I noticed that there were several women working together and found out that it was a My Safe Harbor Mother’s Club and that they had other classes, too, and I thought, “This place is for me.” I knew there was much I needed to learn and I wanted my life to be better — I just didn’t know how.

At that time, I barely spoke English and my children were giving me all kinds of trouble, especially my 14-year-old daughter. I felt alone and like no one would listen to me. I didn’t know what to do. My Safe Harbor immediately felt like home. There were people who were willing to take care of my children so I could have time to learn and to make friends. It was a safe place to share my life and work through my problems. I started looking forward to my days, especially the days when I could be at My Safe Harbor. For the first time in my life I heard people say, “You can do this.” They actually believed in me. And you know what I found out – I COULD do this!

I am a graduate of the very first Strong Families Institute cohort. I don’t know how to describe the difference it has made in my life, but I will try. It gave me the tools to believe in myself, to value myself, and to know that I have much to offer my family. It also gave me practical tools for everyday life:  money management, discipline, organizing my home, communication skills.  I am like a new person. Throughout the program, I was told over and over that the only person I could change was myself. I realized that my children were watching me and that I must set a good example. I was the one who would need to take responsibility for the changes in my own life. The amazing thing was that the more I changed, the more my children changed because they were reacting to a new person.

That was the hard work that I took on five years ago. Now, though I’m still working on my English skills, I am actually a volunteer helping with translation. I help lead one of the Mother’s Clubs and have even taught one of the electives in knitting and crocheting. My relationship with my children has made a huge improvement. None of these good things would have happened without My Safe Harbor — not because they did it for me, but because they helped me believe I could do it and gave me the tools, the strength, and the support to make it happen. Oh… and my problem teenage daughter…she has completed her third year at UC Santa Barbara where she is on scholarship! She is doing so well and I know the best is yet to come for my family!