She had vision and drive, but job loss could have derailed everything

Tyler Roberson had it all planned — at least the next 12 years, which is a lot at age 23.

First, she was going to pass biology, the last class standing between her and her high school diploma. Next, she would enroll at the community college down the street from her apartment. After that, she would transfer to a four-year university and major in psychology. Finally, she would start a career as a counselor. She was planning on doing each of those steps while raising two young children and working two jobs.

Then, in October, her plans hit a snag.

She was working as an overnight custodian for UC Berkeley, cleaning the Cal football lounge and sports offices. She knew the job was temporary, since she was filling in for another employee. But she said she was told that if she stuck with it, the job could become a permanent position after six months.

Roberson had a second job, but the work wasn’t steady. She enjoyed the custodial work, even though the shift was 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The area she cleaned felt safe, unlike the main campus where “everything is really old and creaky and creepy,” she said. And while her supervisors were picky — a fingerprint left on a window, for instance, was a no-no — the job paid well.

Before the UC Berkeley job, Roberson had worked at Tesla in Fremont, 12 hours a day, six days a week. To make it there by 6 a.m., she had to catch the first BART train around 4 a.m. She wouldn’t get home until 8 p.m. most days.

“They kept saying that the schedule would change, but it didn’t,” she said. “The checks were great, but I had to be away from the kids so much. Including travel time, it was just too much.”

At UC Berkeley, Roberson said, she held out hope that the custodial work would become permanent. But four months in, the employee whom she was filling in for returned from leave, and Roberson was no longer needed. She got one-week notice.

The employers at her other job, as an in-home care professional helping the elderly, didn’t have work for her either. Money was tight. Raising a 1-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son isn’t cheap, even with all three of them sharing the modest one-bedroom apartment in Antioch and relying on public transportation.

“I just got really nervous,” Roberson said. “My nerves just got really bad.”

Through a family friend, Roberson eventually found a new job, but several weeks without a paycheck had put her a month behind on rent. Her landlord sent her a three-day notice to pay or vacate the premises.

Roberson tried to stay positive during the ordeal. She didn’t want her children, Bella and Isaiah, to know how close they came to losing their home. Roberson wanted them to focus on kid things — building a gingerbread house, learning to read and playing with their new guinea pig, Roger.

“I was just thinking, ‘I can’t lose my place, I just can’t,’” Roberson said.

She said she Googled something like “Help in Contra Costa County,” which led her to The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund. The nonprofit provides one-time funds to people in crises like Roberson.

Kamico Hayle, of Contra Costa County’s Employment and Human Services Department, who helped Roberson with the application for Season of Sharing help, said Roberson’s initiative impressed him.

“She was going above and beyond, acquiring new employment soon after being laid off,” Hayle said. “She exhausted all other resources, so I’m glad this program was available to her.”

Roberson is now working as a customer service representative for East Bay Paratransit, the service for people with disabilities who cannot use regular buses or trains. But the money from Season of Sharing helped Roberson catch up on rent payments. Her 12-year plan is now back on track.

One benefit of her new job, Roberson said, is that she can pop open her biology textbook when there are no calls to field.

Paying the rent “was a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I felt like I could move on and continue.

“If I keep going, I feel like everything will always just fall back into place, as long as I keep going. I feel like if I stop, everything I’ve worked for — not just this one thing, but everything I’ve been working toward — will fall apart and I’ll have to start all the way over again.”

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @kveklerov

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