Everyone deserves an opportunity to start fresh. Unfortunately, not everyone knows what to do with his or her second chance.
Luckily, Tina Gonzales is not one of those people.
Three years ago, the Glendale native was a single mother suffering not only from depression and recent drug and alcohol abuse, she said, but also from a chronic lack of self-esteem and self-worth. She was only a few months sober, having just completed her first 12-step program, but she had no job and no prospects, and so became in jeopardy of slipping back into her old habits.
"I was completely lost," Gonzales recalls. "I was trying to take care of my daughter, but I was only four months sober and suffering from depression and anxiety."
It was at that point, in the fall of 2007, that she made a decision that would change her life.
"I started going to the Child and Family Center, in Santa Clarita, once a week," Gonzales said. "I was scared at first, but Yu [Enomoto, her therapist] was a godsend. We talked about my home life, sobriety, being a parent. I was focusing so much on taking care of my daughter, but Yu got me thinking about what I wanted to do to take care of me. I needed that balance."
Gonzales decided that what she wanted was to give back to people the same way that Enomoto and everyone else at the Child and Family Center had given to her. After a year of sobriety and several months of therapy, Gonzales enrolled in a drug and alcohol counseling course at Intercoast College. A year later, she was class valedictorian, with a 4.0 grade point average, certified as a substance abuse counselor herself.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd be doing this job," Gonzales muses. "Communities used to hate me when I ran around on the streets causing chaos, and now I'm one of the people trying to help repair families and give back to the community."
Gonzales always had the ability to help herself, Enomoto said, she just needed some guidance to see that.
"She reached inside of herself and realized that she had the ability and potential that she always had to turn her life around," Enomoto said. "And I think we helped her with that process of looking inside of herself."
For her achievements, Gonzales recently received the Assn. of Community Human Service Agencies' Inspiration Award, for "overcoming adversity and serving as a positive role model for others facing similar challenges."
Gonzales credits the Child and Family Center for everything that she has accomplished.
"I'm so grateful for the family center," she said. "They really kept me grounded. I don't remember programs like this being around when I was in high school. It's really important to keep the doors open for people."
Gonzales has been a substance abuse counselor for almost two years now, working with adults and adolescents to help them overcome the same problems she faced herself because everyone deserves a second chance. Gonzales was given that second chance, and she has clearly made it count.