Living below the poverty line is a full-time job — literally — and no one knows this better than Yvonne Hernandez.
As a night-shift janitor at Universal Studios, she carefully balances her work schedule with raising four kids on the outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles and supporting her mom and aunt who still live in Mexico. Sometimes she simply doesn’t have time to sleep but she says it’s worth it because her job provides her with the money her family needs to survive in daily life.
But in their current position, Yvonne and her family can only afford to survive. They can’t focus on creating economic mobility and on gaining the financial foothold they need to achieve their goals. Yvonne dreams of finishing beauty school and becoming a full-time hairstylist.
And her story is far from rare. Adaly Sanchez works 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. every night as a janitor in a building on Wilshire and Fairfax. She’s responsible for three buildings and during her eight-hour shift, she diligently takes out the trash, wipes down all surfaces, and ensures that the building looks nice for the people coming in the next morning. It’s a job she’s done for 13 years despite raising three children and sleeping as little as three hours each night. She hopes to one day save enough in her emergency fund for two months of rent but for now, she settles on helping her daughter attend nursing school.
Building Skills Partnership, a United Way of Greater Los Angeles-funded partner organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for low-wage property service workers and their families, wants to help workers like Yvonne and Adaly achieve their dreams.
“At its core, our mission is to improve quality of life for service workers. They are primarily low-wage workers working in the janitorial industry, commercial real estate development, and also in large populaces such as airports and stadiums,” said Luis Sandoval, Development Manager at Building Skills Partnership. “In terms of their aspirations, they’re the same as any of us. Just from the immigrant experience, they aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families. That’s part of the reason they overcome many obstacles and challenges and why they persevere in overcoming those.”
With the help of United Way, Building Skills Partnership provides incredible services to these individuals such as English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, financial literacy education, and even parent engagement workshops.
It was through the financial literacy classes in particular that Luis and his team started to notice a trend: their clients are often targeted by companies that prey on immigrants seeking tax and financial services by overcharging them. So they decided they needed to do more and approached United Way of Greater Los Angeles six years ago about receiving the funding needed to become a certified tax preparation site. Now they’re able to provide free tax services and much more.
“Helping folks with their taxes gives us the space to talk to them about finances,” explained Monica Zambrano, Building Skills Partnership’s Financial Education Program Coordinator. “In the Latino community, it’s very hard to talk to relatives and close friends about finances. So we try to break down the barrier they might have and answer questions about credit, their refund, and more.”
So far it’s having a profound effect. In just six years, Building Skills Partnership has helped to secure $1,257,527 in refunds for 769 clients, helping people like Adaly and Yvonne prepare for their future.
“The great thing about it is that with the goals that people are setting up, little by little they’re actually accomplishing them,” Monica said. “It is going to take additional sacrifices from our community but little by little we’re seeing their hard work pay off.”