Ana Sanders is expecting a very quiet Christmas. No parties, no turkey dinners, no extravagant visits from Santa.
And she couldn’t be happier.
“I’m just thankful for what I have. Right now, this is enough for me,” said Sanders, 34, as she chopped vegetables for her family’s dinner in San Leandro. “I just want to spend time with my kids and relax. I already feel so lucky.”
A few months ago, Sanders was not feeling so fortunate. She was living in a Motel 6 in Fremont with four of her six children, plus a pit bull puppy, while working fulltime and recovering from an abusive relationship.
With disgruntled kids and not much money, she was feeling particularly hopeless and frustrated one afternoon in September when she received a call from her social worker. Season of Sharing had agreed to pay her deposit on a modest two-bedroom apartment in San Leandro, ushering in the first dose of stability and comfort Sanders had experienced in years.
“It was a miracle,” she said. “I had been so sad, but then all of a sudden I got this phone call and it was like the heavens spoke to me. It really made me believe that everything is going to be all right.”
Sanders was an easy choice for Season of Sharing funds, said her intake worker at Alameda County Social Services.
“Her ability to persevere, to go for her dreams, to be a good mom … it’s pretty amazing,” said Britney Frye. “She’s been through so much, but she keeps it together and has such a great attitude.”
Sanders had experienced more trauma, both physical and emotional, by age 16 than many people do in a lifetime.
At age 12, her parents split up and she moved from San Diego to the Concord area with her mother. Shortly thereafter, she was hit by a car while walking to school. The accident left her in a coma for six days, hospitalized for two months and with permanent vision problems and a lazy eye.
At age 15, she moved out from her mother’s home, and by age 16 was an emancipated minor with her own apartment and job, plus a full load of classes at a continuation high school. She also had a baby, a boy named Esteban.
Esteban was born 2 1/2 months early and spent most of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Her son died when he was a month old.
That was a turning point for Sanders in numerous ways. She knew she wanted to be a nurse, helping others in that situation, and she knew she loved children.
“The nurses at Children’s taught me to feed him, hold him, hug him,” she said. “When he passed away, the nurses were there by our side, crying with me. All I’ve wanted to do since then is help people, give something back.”
Sanders went on to have six more children, all the while attending nursing classes and working. For the past 13 years she’s worked as a medical assistant at Kaiser Oakland and almost continually takes classes toward her nursing degree.
“I’ll probably still be in school when I’m 90,” she said. “Every time I set a goal and reach it, I set another one.”
She never accepted welfare or other assistance until September, when she realized she needed help moving on from a detrimental living situation with an ex-boyfriend.
She’s hopeful about the future, though.
“I’m so stubborn,” she said with a laugh. “I’m always an optimist. No matter how hard things get, I just keep going. There’s always tomorrow.”