Our vendors: Maria D. (Street Roots, Portland, Oregon, USA)

By Alex Gillow-Wiles, Street Roots

Maria D. radiates human warmth and openness. Talking with her, it’s hard to feel you’re not right at home, regardless of where your conversation takes place. She speaks with a self-effacing kindness that belies the years of travel and hard work in her life.

Maria has lived in Portland for three years. She was born on the West Coast but spent many of her formative years in a much different climate.

“I grew up Southern California till I was 12 and after that, Minnesota. It was a big, huge culture shock,” she says, laughing.

Photo courtesy of Street Roots

Maria is in a transitional period of her career. She’s spent her life working in many industries – restaurant and service, cleaning, construction, caretaking, to name a few.

“I worked in a tool and die shop for a year. That was cool. Waitressing, hosting, dishwashing. I also worked with a tree trimmer for a year and lived in Apache Junction. Gosh, it was great. It was fun.”

Today, Maria is reaching an age where her body no longer appreciates such physical jobs. She’s trying to find work that doesn’t exacerbate the kinds of medical conditions that a lifetime of labor can give a person.

“I’m trying to figure out if I can work, doing a different kind of job. I have fibromyalgia and a lot of problems, and it seems like I get really worn down when I put in a lot of effort doing something. I know the physical’s out, so this is my attempt at trying to work. I’m trying to find a job at two different places and see if I can handle working or not.

“I’m involved with the employment access center at Central City Concern. I need something where I can sit down or stand up, kind of fluctuate throughout the day. I really don’t even know because I haven’t done anything like this. I’ve always done physical jobs, so it’s such a weird thing to think about. I believe in God, and I think that God has something planned for me. It will happen when it’s supposed to.”

Maria says she also wants to continue her education.

“I want to go back to college – I really do. I could be a counselor. I’ve been through everything with relationships and with drugs, all the aspects of homeless – all that stuff. I think I would be able to understand someone.

“I would like to be a deaf interpreter. I have a deaf brother. I would really like to do that at schools. I know sign language, but I’m pretty rusty. I know I’d enjoy that a lot.

“It gives you an independence that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Throughout the interview, it’s a challenge to keep Maria focused on herself. She wants to talk about Street Roots.

“I want to say that the first time I came to Street Roots, I needed a bus pass to get to the hospital. I don’t remember what was going on with me. I had only done the orientation, and it was my very first day, and I asked for a bus pass, and Cole didn’t have one. And he took five bucks out of the register to give me so I could get to the hospital. That was my first memory of Street Roots. They have always welcomed me back regardless of how long it’s been.

“You can come there and get a job right off the bat and start making a little money. So that gives you an independence that you don’t get anywhere else,” she says. “And there are a lot of people out there that love Street Roots. So it’s always nice to find those people, just to connect with them. It’s really cool.”