Mom’s and daughter’s lives only got better after a help up

Life usually changes for the worse when you fall off a ladder. Not always.

For Dora Castillo, who fell from a ladder in 2002, things didn’t get worse at all. Even though she broke her foot, and even though she got fired from her job as a San Francisco hotel maid for breaking her foot — and at Christmas, too

Things got better, and kept getting better. Sixteen years later, they’re better than ever.

“I’m a warrior,” said Castillo. “I keep going.”

But she did get an initial step up from The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing.

Castillo fell from a ladder while on the job cleaning a downtown hotel room. She didn’t tell the boss, because she was afraid of being fired, and it was nearing Christmas. But her boss found out and Castillo got fired anyway. Losing her job meant the single mother wasn’t able to pay the rent or buy Christmas presents for her 8-year-old daughter, Rina.

Season of Sharing, which provides one-time funds to people facing unexpected crises, heard about her plight and paid two months back rent so that the Castillos could stay in their Mission District apartment. The food bank at the La Raza Community Resource Center of San Francisco helped out, too.

As the story of Dora’s broken foot and job loss spread, strangers filled their apartment with toys, games, books and dolls for Rina. Firefighters at a local station brought over a Christmas tree — the first tree the Castillo family ever had.

“It was the best Christmas,” Rina said. “All because strangers helped.”

Dora Castillo got back on her feet, figuratively and literally. After three years, she no longer needed to use a cane. She got another job, as a caregiver for San Francisco seniors. It’s a lot better than the hotel job, she said.

And, as happens in stories like this , Rina didn’t stay 8 years old. Rina grew up. As she did, she remembered what can happen when strangers help strangers.

As a kid, Rina had wanted to work with animals. Over the years, she changed her mind. In high school, she decided she wanted to go into social work.

“I wanted to help other people because I saw what happened when other people helped us,” she said.

Rina Castillo graduated with honors from UC Santa Cruz and got a job at Catholic Charities of San Francisco, in the Mission District. Her job is locating and interviewing people in the same fix that she and her mom were in 16 years ago. She has identified and helped pay the rent of scores of clients.

“A lot of my clients have exactly the same story that my mother and I did,” she said. “They just need temporary help getting back on their feet.”

Rina still lives with her mom in the Mission District, in a larger apartment unit. Dora is 50, Rina, 24.

“My mom has always been there for me, and I’m always going to be there for her,” Rina said. “We’re stable now. That’s a nice word. Stable.”

These days they go halves on the rent. They can afford Christmas presents and a tree. Dora leaves the house every day to run errands, clean and cook for an 83-year-old client in the Castro.

And Rina goes to work at Catholic Charities where her boss, Mishell Monsoco, is the same caseworker who helped line up the Castillos’ Season of Sharing grant in 2002. Monsoco had stayed in touch with the Castillos over the years, helping them with legal advice and advice about colleges.

When Rina, fresh out of UC Santa Cruz, came looking for a job, it was Monsoco who recommended that she be hired.

“Rina is diligent,” Monsoco said. “She listens. She gives herself to people. She’s very sweet but she’s also very tough.”

Rina Castillo is heading back to college soon, to get her master’s degree in social work, so she can “keep helping,” she said.

“We all need help sometimes,” she said. “The Season of Sharing Fund was there for us when we needed it. I want to be there for people who need help, too.”

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

Read the full original article at:

Help your Bay Area neighbors today by donating to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund: All administrative expenses are covered by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the San Francisco Chronicle so 100% of your tax-deductible donation helps Bay Area residents in need.