From ‘broken’ to stable … and still striving

In her role overseeing the paint department at a local Home Depot, Yolanda Gray meets a new cast of characters every day. She particularly enjoys helping young moms pick colors. Whether it is an expectant mother who is planning a nursery or a new mother with a wide-eyed child in tow, there is a sense of opportunity in every unopened can of paint.

“Those are my favorites,” she said. “I love the mommies.”

Perhaps because she has rarely experienced the same unspoiled optimism outside the paint department.

Yolanda’s parents died before she was 3 years old. Her two youngest kids were taken away – first taken from her custody, then taken out of state. She struggled to keep a job and an apartment. She tried to numb the pain with drugs. “I was broken,” she said.

Now she is clean, happily married, comfortable in an apartment she has held for more than three years and a job she has kept for more than a year. She is stable and working on becoming self-sufficient.

More than anything else, she is working to regain custody of her kids. She recently saved enough money to hire a lawyer with the right licensure and connections in Ohio and Minnesota, and they have begun the process of seeking custody.

“She has done all the things they ask her to do,” said Yolanda Hill, a professional development coach at Cincinnati Works who has helped Yolanda Gray reach this point. “She has been consistent in using the resources here with the goal of reconnecting with her kids.”

In that sense, Yolanda Gray has been a model Cincinnati Works Member – working earnestly and consistently to address a wide range of issues that hinder her.

Some of the issues arose from her difficult childhood. Some resulted from decisions she regrets. All of them are manageable with the right mindset and the right partner.

Yolanda Gray found that partner in Yolanda Hill. It was no coincidence they worked together to complete the mountain of custody paperwork.

“She pushed me. No, she shoved me,” Yolanda Gray said. “I never had the courage to overcome something like that. Everything I do now, I think, ‘What would Yolanda do? What would she tell me?’”

Yolanda Gray was convinced after their initial meeting that Yolanda Hill was the perfect coach for her – the ideal mix of sweet and tough, encouraging and demanding. “I prayed for it,” she said.

Hill was less sure. She did not doubt Yolanda’s sincerity, but she understood the toll that a lifetime of trauma takes on a person’s psyche.

“You can get beaten down,” Hill said. “Every obstacle becomes something you can’t handle. We had that conversation. She had to be more invested than just her tears.”

Yolanda Gray answered the challenge. She quit using drugs, underwent family counseling and connected with a financial coach at Cincinnati Works. Then she accepted the job at Home Depot, even if it wasn’t the type of work she sought.

“I knew I had to contribute,” she said. “I thought I’d be there just long enough to get by while I looked for a job I actually wanted. Now a year-and-a-half later …”

She smiled at the thought. She recently completed a supervisor training program at Home Depot and has dabbled in other departments, with the goal of one day managing a store. She is now proud of the job she once tried to avoid.

Her boss is grateful for it. The paint department where Yolanda works is the busiest paint department of all 131 Home Depot stores in the Ohio Valley region, store manager Jesse McVey said. Yolanda has made such a strong impression that one customer recently said he would only shop on days when she worked.

“It’s her dependability,” McVey said. “With what Yolanda Hill has done to help her build a sense of trust in herself, and the heart Yolanda (Gray) has shown every day she has been here, I couldn’t be more proud of her.”