Barbara and Chris Pincheira-Ramos were married on August 17, 2018, and soon after, the Orange County Register featured their inspiring story. Since the day that Illumination Foundation took them off the streets, life for the couple has just gotten better and better. On the day before Thanksgiving, they were in their kitchen making pies with Chris’ pre-teen daughter.
How They Got to Now
In September 2018, Barbara and Chris moved from the Coral Motel, an Illumination Foundation recuperative care facility, into a micro-community (shared residential house), also sponsored by Illumination Foundation. Within just a few months, Chris found a job, and the couple got a car.
“We got married three months after we were both sober, then our families came back to us, and now we have Section 8 (federally assisted) housing, and that has changed everything,” Barbara explains. When we were living on the street, I was just done emotionally and mentally. I was ready to end it all. The day that Illumination Foundation came to tell me I had a place to stay was the day that my life changed. We started doing the therapy and substance abuse counseling that Illumination Foundation recommended, and then everything started falling into place,” explained Barbara, wiping tears in her eyes.
Stepping away from the kitchen table, his hands dusted with flour, Chris interjects: “A lot of time when people try to get help, they have to go to so many different places, but Illumination Foundation has everything together all in the same place. We never could have sorted ourselves out without their help. If you need help with something– if you have a learning disability, for example, they hold your hand and help you through it. Illumination Foundation made what we have today possible.”
The Beauty of Micro-Communities
“Never in a million years did I think I was going to be here in the micro-community,” raves Barbara. “If you had asked me when I was on the street that two years later I would be living here in this house, in this neighborhood, I would never have believed you.
“Living here in the micro-community, I have learned how to be humble,” Barbara explains. “You take for granted things like taking a hot shower and cooking and using the bathroom. Now when we go grocery shopping, people don’t follow us. Our neighbors say hi to us, they don’t avoid us. We can go out to dinner, and people don’t stare. We’re productive members of society. It’s incredible.”
The micro-community has taught me how to live with different people. We have white, black, South American, all backgrounds here. It’s great. We teach each other recipes from our different cultures. Illumination Foundation gave us the tools and the resources so that we can stay on our feet. We learned how to pay bills, write checks, talk to people about insurance, go grocery shopping, basic things like that. Things that most people take for granted but we just never learned.”
Chris and Barbara are going to be moving out of the micro-community and into their own home next February. They qualify for a 3-bedroom house, and Chris’ daughter and Barbara’s two teenage sons are going to live with them. With the help of Illumination Foundation, they are looking for a home in an area with a good school district and far away from the gangs and other problems that troubled their own childhoods.
When talking about the future, Barbara gets teary again. “I want to do peer support and help people who are in our situation. I’m taking a class next month to learn how to do that. On our Facebook page, people reach out and tell me that we are giving them hope in the same way that others gave us hope. They tell me, ‘If you can do it, I can do it too!’”
“After we moved here,” Chris again chimes in, pies now in the oven, “the first paycheck I got, we made a big pot of albondigas, and some rice pudding, and we brought them to Coral because we wanted to give back. Tomorrow, we’re going to bring food to people who are still on the street for Thanksgiving.”
“More important than anything else, we have our family back, so sharing these moments—like baking with Chris’ daughter—is priceless, adds Barbara, her voice cracking. “She came back into his life last year on December 19. Family to me is everything, and for his daughter to able to come over and cook Thanksgiving dinner with us is a miracle.”