As 18-year-old Margaret Gomez was about to complete her final GED exam, she started having contractions. She rushed from the room before finishing, though would go on to reschedule and pass. In May 2006, Gomez spoke at graduation to her 50-person class. Her 2-year-old daughter, Julyza, and weeks-old son, Junior, were in the crowd.
Just six months prior, Gomez’s life had looked dramatically different. She was in an unhealthy marriage and unstable living situation. “I had a 1-year-old daughter, and I was three months pregnant,” she says. “I had a caseworker who would come and visit me at my house — I was actually living in a garage — it was not a place for a family to live. So she told me about the Tubman House.”
Tubman House, part of the Sacramento-based Waking the Village nonprofit organization, provides 24 months of free housing and a structured support program to young homeless parents 18-24 years old. During their stay, parents and children live in one of two co-operative houses and work with coaches to navigate obstacles to stability. Monday through Friday, the residents can use amenities to enroll in or complete schoolwork or access services, like health care. They can also attend workshops to learn how to budget, parent, rent their own apartment, cook healthy meals and more.
“If it hadn’t been for them, I would have been alone in that room in labor.”Margaret Gomez, youth development director, Tubman House
“Within our housing programs, 75 percent secure employment, 65 percent attend college and over 90 percent exit to stable housing with supports in place to maintain momentum,” says Bridget Alexander, founder and executive director of Waking the Village.
Gomez is one of 180 young families who have gone through the Tubman House since it was founded in 2003. Gomez leaned heavily on the Tubman House for support during her months in the program as she filed for divorce and a restraining order against her husband and earned her GED diploma. In fact, her coach from the program attended Junior’s birth as a doula after she rushed out of her exam.
“If it hadn’t been for them, I would have been alone in that room in labor,” Gomez says.
After receiving her GED certificate, Gomez attended Cosumnes River College before earning a cosmetology degree from Castelos Academy. These days, she puts those skills to use on weekends and evenings, while working full-time as youth development director at the Tubman House, coaching young parents through many of the same obstacles she navigated herself.
“Maggie has lots of wisdom to share,” Alexander says. “She is full of humor and warmth. She is a fantastic mother and a dedicated social worker.”
Gomez can relate to the women she’s now working to help. “I’ve seen myself a little bit in all of the moms, in one way or another.”