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catching up with building hope

Staff Spotlight Interview with Yess 

After much anticipation, hard work, tears, money, time and stress, the nerves began to settle. The relief of completion flooded her with emotions. She had been working hard and waiting for the moment she could proudly call herself a U.S. resident. “After they gave me my residency for 10 years I felt confused, and found myself doubting it was real. Then I felt relieved- it was the hardest process I had ever been through,” shares Yess. If you have attended a free connectedness event, participated in the Hype program, or opened yourself to a new activity with our Bilingual options, it is likely you have had the pleasure to meet Erika Yessenia Vinueza Garcia, a.k.a. Yess, our Bilingual Event Coordinator. 

Yess has worked with Building Hope for the last year and has lived in Summit County for 18 months. She migrated from Quito, Ecuador when a chance encounter on Main Street in Breckenridge changed her plans. While visiting friends on a short trip to the mountains, she crossed paths with a ski instructor who caught her eye. She extended her trip, and four months later she headed to the Netherlands with her new ski-instructor husband, Nico. Yess was excited to work an internship as a Logistic Manager while Nico worked on his Master’s Degree. 

The couple set off on their new adventure, but unfortunately timing was not on their side. The pandemic came shortly after the move overseas and lockdown in the Netherlands made studies and life difficult. While Nico was able to continue with classes online, Yess lost her job and began to feel anxious and depressed, stuck inside their small apartment while her money and motivation dwindled. She yearned to return to Ecuador to be with family but border closures prohibited this. “I remember waking up at 4 a.m. and feeling the anxiety from not working, losing my financial security, and not being able to travel home. It was too much for me.”

Slowly over time Europe began to open back up, and Yess began to take advantage of the trains and explore the region. She was also practicing Yoga, which led to an opportunity to teach a class outside in a park for other international citizens. Yess was bilingual and could relate to what others were feeling: isolated in a different country or missing home. She became more involved locally, planning more community events. “I felt like I was coming back to life.” 

While the couple had planned to head to Italy next for an internship for Nico, they eventually made the difficult decision to return to Summit County as the pandemic continued to challenge the pair financially and emotionally. Nico had secured his job as a ski instructor, but Yess returned as an immigrant with a tourist visa and no plan. The feelings of anxiety and depression returned as she struggled to secure a job and feel financially secure. She met with a lawyer and began the tedious process of exploring the option to gain her US residency. 

She began working illegally in a retail position. It was during one of her shifts when a tipsy customer crossed the line, inappropriately touching her and ordering her to “keep working immigrant.” She came home feeling like life didn’t make sense anymore, her self-worth decreased, leaving her in a dark place struggling to gain momentum. Yess recalls locking herself in the bathroom with a large dose of penicillin, knowing she was allergic to the drug. Nico called 911, connecting with the SMART team (Systemwide Mental Health Response Team), a collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office and trained mental-health specialists. Together Nico and the SMART team coaxed Yess out of the bathroom and encouraged her to seek help.

Financially therapy was difficult but with the help of a Latinas group called ALMA, Yess was partnered with a mentor who had similar experiences and struggles as an immigrant in Summit County. She enrolled in English classes at Colorado Mountain College. Other opportunities to volunteer and teach yoga with  Building Hope began to open more doors, including a job offer to be the Bilingual Events Coordinator here at Building Hope. In the past year the impact Yess has made in the Building Hope and Latina community is obvious, opening doors to various bilingual events and connections with her ability to relate to the struggles immigrants in our community often face.

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Although Yess is proud to have finally received her residency, she often feels upset about how hard and unfair the process is. “I think I am still upset because I have seen many people who are undocumented, being exploited at work, afraid to raise their voices out of fear, secretly missing their roots and the world where they grew up,” shares Yess. 

With momentum finally on Yess’s side, she continues to acknowledge and work on her mental-health struggles daily. She loves her job and feels like she has gained more control of her emotions. She finds an outlet and release in physical activity, falling in love with trail running and snowboarding throughout the local peaks. She proudly shared with us her first medal from winning a local 5K fundraising race. She finally felt the right connection with her third therapist and visits her weekly. Yess is grateful for the support of her husband, family, friends, and coworkers in her journey from immigrant struggling to succeed, to a US resident full of strength and resilience.

Article by Alyse Piburn, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at alyse@buildinghopesummit.org.
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