Oakland Mom Smiles Again and Invests in Her “second chance”

Shanelle approaches each day in the Bay Area with a smile.

“I am the happiest I have ever been my whole entire life,” she shared. 

That’s a realization she doesn’t take lightly. She bubbles over with excitement at the future possibilities ahead because knowing happiness wasn’t the reality for her just a few years ago.  

“I was a mess, in trauma, and dealing with things that no one in my family had dealt with,” she explained. 

One of the first steps the Oakland native took to feeling “whole” was recognizing her worth and no longer accepting circumstances that didn’t support her mentally and emotionally. 

“I was trying to find my way, finding love in all the wrong places. That made me deal with people that were horrible, and just all kinds of low vibrational things,” she revealed. 

Ironically, the turning point in Shanelle’s journey to self-discovery happened on a milestone birthday. 

“When I turned 40, I don't know what happened, but I just got tired of the same. I didn't like who I was looking at. I didn't want to be a mean person. I'm happy [now] because I patiently learned how to love myself,” said Shanelle. 

Beginning to show her big, vibrant smile is a big step for the single mom who spent past holidays feeling self-conscious about her appearance. 

“I was in a really bad relationship - he knocked my teeth out. He took my smile away,” revealed Shanelle. 

As the sole provider for her 16-year-old son, Shanelle—with her broken smile—still worked her public-facing jobs despite the judgment she felt from strangers who didn’t understand all she’d endured. 

“I wasn’t feeling good about myself. I had never experienced that. But when people see you, they don't see that,” she shared.

Ultimately, Shanelle realized she couldn’t heal until she confronted past traumas. The most notable one happened nearly 16 years ago when the father of her then-newborn son met a tragic death.  

“Back then my mind stopped, my life stopped. I was utterly lost and not supported. It just was a mess,” she remembered.

In 2021, Shanelle connected with UpTogether as a participant in the Oakland Resilient Families Guaranteed Income Pilot—at the time, one of the largest GI pilots in the country. She received $500 monthly for 18 months and said it gave her an opportunity to exhale. She was burning the candle at both ends, working multiple jobs. By the time she got home from her nursing assistant and substitute teaching jobs, she was exhausted. Shanelle said she’d try to catch up on sleep on the weekends, but that often meant sacrificing time she’d rather spend bonding with her son. With the investments, Shanelle said she found time for vision and peace of mind.  

“It just was a breath of fresh air. I haven't caught my breath since 2006, when my baby’s dad died. I've just been going. I needed to plan and strategize,” she shared.

Her monthly investments started at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. With more control over choosing her work schedule, Shanelle launched a gemstone business. 

“I had never done jewelry before, but I had the time to teach myself certain things. My worries weren't, "Oh my God, my [electricity bill] is due tomorrow and I don't have it," said Shanelle. 

The new entrepreneur used some of her direct cash investments to catch up on bills and other household maintenance. She also says she would’ve had second thoughts about using the resource if it came with stipulations on how people could use the money. 

Investing directly into a person’s strength and trusting them to be the expert in their own life is the part of the UpTogether approach that Shanelle appreciates most.

“How are [some of these programs] going to tell me what to do? It's kind of like they indirectly tell you what to do with your money. They give you only so much. You can't make too much because every time you make too much, your rent goes up too,” she scoffed. 

Shanelle believes a tangible solution to make things equitable for people who experience limited incomes is to invest directly into them.  

“The community is not what’s in trouble. It’s the people living in the community that are hurting. No one’s saying, “Hey, let me give you some tools that may help you." There are no tools.” 

Shanelle is proof that investing in the community and trusting individuals to know what’s best for their lives can bring out the big smile and so much more.

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