It’s hard to think of Ronesha without smiling. She exudes positivity—whether it’s her outlook on life, the music she listens to, or the lessons she teaches her children—Ronesha is rooted in positivity and kindness.
The Houston, Texas native has spent the past 10 years sharpening her skills and advancing her career in the oil refinery industry. Let’s pause here for a moment to acknowledge Ronesha’s rare accomplishment in a male dominated industry. A 2022 study showed that only 6.4% of oil refinery operators in the United States are women, 93.6% are men.
Ronesha works as a chemical drummer which often takes her to contract work at different refineries around the country – sometimes for months at a time. The work of preparing chemicals to be transported to other refineries can be tedious, but Ronesha says she always yearned for a job where she could get her hands dirty.
“It's definitely a different world of work. It's not cut out for everybody, but it's a line of work [that] if you're a hard worker it’s for you,” said Ronesha.
“I've worked for several different companies throughout the years. You go in and you learn one craft and you get hired for this company and they'll say, ‘Hey, we have a one-month job here in Tennessee…We have work in Victoria, Texas, or Oklahoma,’” she explained.
Ronesha is driven by her goal to provide the best possible life for her two daughters—ages 14 and three.
“Being a mom is one of the most beautiful things that any woman can be and I adore it. I love it. I don't care how hard I have to work, being a mom is what I'm doing it for,” she said.
When she’s not criss-crossing the country for work, Ronesha, her daughters, and her husband enjoy their Willis, Texas lifestyle together. The small lumber and agricultural community is about a one-hour’s drive north from her Houston hometown.
“Willis is more family oriented and a little more organized,” Ronesha shared. “We [our family] have excelled since we've been here. We absolutely love it. We love the peace and quiet.”
It wasn’t always peace and quiet for Ronesha’s family. Their move to Willis came shortly after facing back-to-back financial challenges. The first hurdle was in late 2019 while she was pregnant with her second child.
“When I was about eight months, I had a really hard time with a supervisor. He felt like I should still be able to do the norm no matter how far along in my pregnancy, I should still be able to climb the towers. I should still be able to flag forklifts,” she revealed.
Unable to keep up with her day-to-day tasks, Ronesha was let go. Days later, she returned to her job to advocate for herself. The refinery launched an investigation and ultimately sided with Ronesha.
“That definitely did take some guts—some I didn't know I had. But when you're up against the wall like that, it's like, ‘Hey, I feel like I was treated unfairly,’ and sometimes you just have to speak up and just stepping out on the limb helped me get my job back,” said Ronesha.
After maternity leave, Ronesha returned to work at the beginning of 2020 just a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the country to a standstill. She was laid off again.
“Times just got tough because when you have a permanent position, you plan for that life. Me and my husband [suddenly] had one income and things were kind of tough,” said Ronesha.
Still being intentional about having a positive outlook, Ronesha saw the pandemic as an opportunity for her family to start over. Houston had always been their home; it’s where Ronesha’s support system is based and where she’d planned to live long term. Ultimately, she and her husband decided they needed a fresh start, so they moved to Willis to rebuild their lives and have yet to regret their choice.
“The community is close-knit. They have a Facebook page where we keep each other updated on things. I love that everybody's looking out for each other,” she said.
Ronesha was a participant in a six-month UpTogether Ambassadors Fund where members in proximity to Houston were offered an opportunity to receive monthly investments and start an online group. Shortly after the Fund ended, UpTogether received an email boasting that there was a wife and mom of two we needed to celebrate for what she means to others in her community. Without Ronesha knowing it, the email came from a friend who was actually the first person Ronesha invited to join her online group as part of the UpTogether Ambassadors Fund. Ronesha’s group met at least once a month. The group set goals together and shared ideas on how to give back to their community. Their brainstorm sessions eventually led to them organizing a supply drive for their local middle school.
“The group definitely helps to put it on my mind to get people together. So without that group, I'm 100% sure [the drive] would not have happened,” shared Ronesha.
Supply drives and bi-monthly food drives for people in her community are just a couple of the initiatives for Ronesha’s group. Another focus the group discussed is that she wants government officials and policymakers to make it easier for individuals and families like hers, who may earn too much money, to qualify for public benefits. Ronesha admitted to us that, sometimes, even a one dollar raise in salary could lock a person out of qualifying for aid.
“For people like me, it's like, ‘Hey, you're just fine. You're working, you don't need the help.’ But some of us who are working, we're drowning. Especially when the cost of living is going up, the cost of groceries is going up, the cost of gas is going up, but not the cost of what we get paid,” said Ronesha. “I'm pretty sure it will take a lot of work to do, but I really feel like some changes should be made.”