I have been lucky to lead WANDA for just over 8.5 years now. I joined as the Executive Director in 2014, shortly after the birth of my first daughter. The mission really resonated with me. I was raised by a single mother in cyclical poverty in San Francisco. We faced food, housing and job insecurity during most of my youth.
When I was growing up, my mother Joanna was my hero and like a best friend. She often felt like an outlier because her path in life was in vast contrast to the presumed expectations of others. She left an abusive marriage, moved across the county, found new love even though it didn’t sustain, and had a child on her own – welcoming single motherhood and all of its potential challenges with an open mind and heart. As a result of being a single mother, she did struggle. I remember most times funds were tight and she had to make some very difficult decisions. We moved a lot, over a dozen times before I was 18, and she faced fairly consistent job and financial insecurity. She often took contract jobs because they paid a higher hourly rate and provided flex-time, but on the flipside, lacked benefits, security and stability.
Juggling a young child and her job, Joanna pursued her Bachelors degree attending night school at City College of San Francisco. She struggled with crippling credit and student loan debt, but she was steadfast in making sure I didn’t suffer the same pitfalls she did. She educated me about credit, helped me open my first secured credit card, supported my applications for college scholarships and financial aid, and counseled against taking out loans, brainstorming alternative ways to support myself. As a result of her guidance, I graduated with my BA and MA degrees with zero debt.
Despite the relentless challenges she faced, Joanna never once made me feel like a burden and I rarely saw the stress get the best of her. She definitely wasn’t perfect (who is?), but I know that she did the best she could with what she had and what she knew. I looked up to her – and she continues to inspire my work advocating for other struggling single mothers and supporting their path to economic justice.
Finally, Joanna always gave me freedom to make my own decisions, and trusted me to initiate my own experiences in life. She exuded humor, a bit of temper, consistent affection, and an open-mindedness that I owe so much of the good parts of who I am to. I could tell my mom anything – she never judged – she was always my greatest advocate and friend. It is her identity as a strong, independent single mother that I celebrate – one who faced struggles head on, celebrated successes, and made sacrifices to give me the best life she could. Joanna passed away in December 2021 after over a decade’s battle with early onset dementia. I hold her memory – her humor, her flair for the dramatic and her ability to care deeply for those she loved. To the single moms out there – you inspire your children, you are their role model and they will learn from the best of you and carry your legacy forward.