In 2007, Zoraida Cruz, living in Los Angeles, was out of work, struggling to support her young daughter, Alize. Two years later, she was gainfully employed, volunteering to help women like herself and sharing her inspirational story with President Barack Obama.
Her life began to change two years ago when she attended a WE Connect event in Los Angeles, supported by The Women’s Conference. It was the success of the WE Connect program, and its role in helping women such as Zoraida escape poverty, that sparked the interest of the President.
Zoraida shares her experience with us here – from unemployment to The White House.
How did you find the WE Connect program?
I was up and down – on welfare, off welfare, back and forward. Because of my social worker, I was able to find a volunteer position at PACE [Pace is a program that connects low income people with housing options], and all these amazing opportunities suddenly came up. And I just let them in.
I found WE Connect from my employer. I was volunteering where I work now. WE Connect was offering to do people’s income taxes for free. And they were looking for single moms. So I went, and I met Maria Shriver, who helped me put my info into the WEb Connector. It turned out that I was eligible for more than four thousand dollars. I was about to move at the time, so the money became the deposit on the new apartment.
After you moved, and your volunteer position became a full-time job, you returned to the WE Connect event to assist other people who needed help. What inspired you to do that – to pass it on -- two years later?
There are no boundaries to what you can do for other people in need. You can never forget where you come from. When Maria Shriver saw me at WE Connect, I told her, “I’m giving back – that’s why I’m here.”
This past spring, you got a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to come to The White House to tell your story in person to President Barack Obama. On April 15, you met with the President and his advisors to discuss how the WE Connect program changed your life. What was that like?
It was the greatest experience of my life. Everything just happened so quickly – it was unbelievable.
We went into the conference room, and we were told our name tags would be right in front of our chairs. When I walked in, there was my name, and right next to me – instead of another person’s name -- it said “Reserved.” There was no name on the tag. The seat was for President Obama. Then I started to get nervous. But when he came in, he shook my hand, and we just started talking. He asked me about the earned income tax credit and how it has helped my family and me, so I gave him my story.
I never thought in a million years that the President would be listening to me speak about how WE Connect changed my life… I found a voice inside that I never knew I had.
In the end -- I’m a single mom working to support her daughter the best way I can. President Obama listened to my story and told me, “You’re a good role model. I’m really proud of what you do.” I wanted to cry. There were so many things going through my mind – my being able to take my daughter to The White House was an added bonus. That trip was the first time we ever rode on a plane. What an amazing experience to live with my daughter.
After the hour-long meeting, we just walked out of the conference room, and President Obama said, “Keep on being who you are.”
This is my year. So many amazing things are happening. I don’t even know how they started, or why they started happening. I’m just thankful.
Life is really better -- way better than it used to be -- in every aspect. I couldn’t ask for more. But it wouldn’t have happened without my effort. What you give, that’s what you get.
So keep on giving, and pass it on.
Watch the video to learn more about how the WE Connect program helped Zoraida and others achieve greater financial security.
Zoraida's visit to The White House