From Homeless to Homeowner & Business Owner, Heather Valencia

Innovators of Washington

Opportunity isn’t something that was handed to me in life. It was always something I had to reach out and get myself. I was dealt a very challenging hand in life that, in many ways, felt like I was living with a curse that was put upon one of my ancestors in a past life.

As I grew up, many events led me down a path of what should have been self-destruction, but rather, I turned it around and made the best out of every situation that I could. Surviving my best one moment at a time.

I came from a background with an alcoholic, abusive father, stepfather, and grandfather. I watched my mother suffer a lot in life. She was a runaway as a teen and married my father, a Puerto Rican from Florida who didn’t know much English. They had a fiery relationship because of his violence, jealousy, and alcoholism. Many tragic events caused her to catapult herself into the United States Army so that she could take better care of me and try her best to create a life for me.

While in the Army, she met my stepfather. My stepfather was a worse human being than him. Only this time, It was me who was the prime target, more than my mother.

I tried to commit suicide around the age of 10/11 or so. I had to jump around from institutions where they poked and prodded my brain but never solved the core issue in my home. I was bounced around foster homes, friends, families, etc. But most of my time was spent being homeless from the age of 13 to 18.

I preferred being in control of my own life to feeling unwanted and unloved everywhere I went. Sleeping in abandoned cars in wrecking yards, on the side of gas stations, breaking into homes for sale, and sleeping on the grass in any place that had it.

I’ve been kidnapped and used on one occasion. Drugged and used on another occasion. Even as a baby, I went missing for 24 hours only to be found with my clothes changed and walking around at some apartment complex early in the morning. There are events In my life I can’t even put to paper. And unbelievable events that I could write entire books around. My life is truly a long series of unfortunate events.

The shoes I’ve had to walk in were very tattered and torn. I made a habit of finding solace in my situation when I told myself that “it could be worse” and “there are others that suffer much harder lives.” I try to remember to be grateful for what I have instead of what I don’t.

I was never a “bad” kid. I was a good kid who craved to have an everyday ‘normal’ life. I just didn’t have much opportunity. I dropped out of school after 6th Grade. While on the streets, I spent a lot of time at the local library because it was a place to pass the time. Reading non-fiction books shaped me into a thinker, a philosopher, and a poet.

At age 16, I became pregnant by a man in his 20’s. Only to end up a prisoner with a mentally ill person. He was perverse and sexually abusive. He had no problems punching me in my pregnant stomach when I was in trouble. Hitting me for hiding in the bathroom to cry. I was not allowed to be seen by other men. So he locked me in the room when men would come to visit with him. When she was born, he used our infant to threaten me into doing his bidding.

To ensure our rent and bills were paid, I continued working full-time at a fast-food job. I got hired the very day I turned 16 because having the option to work was the most exciting thing I had been waiting for. I was very proud of myself.

Our location was about 1.5 miles to work and 1.5 miles back. I would ride my bike, but as I got bigger, that wasn’t an option anymore, so I had to walk most days. I worked drive-thru and front counter up until 3 days before giving birth.

There were days I’d walk thru the door tired with my ankles swollen and a belly 8 months large. But, I was not allowed to sit down. The moment I came thru the door, I would see this jobless man sitting there playing video games like he did every day. It was my responsibility to serve this man a meal when I got home, or I would be sorry.

Eventually, baby and I would come to be on the streets together. We didn’t have anywhere to go. We lived in homeless shelters, cold cement basements, and crack houses.

I remember swallowing my pride to ask an acquaintance to live in that basement in Spokane temporarily. Her mother, a crackhead, wasn’t really welcoming about it. And neither was she. My focus was always on taking care of my daughter. I was tired of being broke, on the streets, and begging others for shelter.

I was 18 with a baby, and Spokane was a place where I had no family and no good friends. We were utterly alone in a place I had never been before.

They didn’t want us in that basement for long.

I was grateful that social services were available in Washington State. I was given 400/mo in cash, food stamps, and childcare to help me become employed. I was lucky enough to find an apartment in a crack house type complex at 350/mo. Leaving us with just a tad of cash left after the rent was paid. Police officers and dogs frequently made their way up and down the stairs around that place.

My next-door neighbor was a drug dealer. However, I was lucky that he was a good person to us. He never put his hands on me or made advances. He never even showed one sexual emotion in my direction, which was unusual at that time in my life. He was very respectful, which was not a common thing in my life from men. He took the role of protecting me and my kiddo when he could.

He noticed that my daughter and I lived in our empty apartment with just a box of clothes. No furniture, no bed, no blankets. Out of pity, he gave us 100 bucks one time to get ourselves some blankets. I never forgot that. Or when he stopped some obsessed man from beating on my door in the middle of the night, yelling at me to let him in because he wanted his way with me.

I was so fortunate that the business behind my complex was hiring. I happened to see the ad in the Sunday paper looking for a computer person. I walked over there, an 18-year-old with a 6th-grade education, looked this man in the eye, and told him I knew computers despite never owning a computer in my life. But I used them in libraries and used them in my short time at alternative schools.

And while other kids paid attention in alternative class, I was the kid who figured out how to hack the security system so I could view whatever I wanted on the internet. While still being the kid that was the BEST at Photoshop and barely paid any attention. Well, in my opinion, anyhow. My ego has a very high view of my work efforts. Haha! I’m a very egotistical, humble person. It has helped me survive.

Anyhow, back to getting hired by lying about computers. The thing was, I was confident enough to know that whatever it was that needed to be done, I would figure it out. And that I did.

They wanted a website? I taught myself how to design a basic website for this business using yahoo site builder. A website they used for nearly 15 years after I left. They wanted a person who could use a CAD program to design kitchens? I figured it out with the software salesman, and then I was teaching everyone else in the company how to use it.

In turn, I was fortunate enough to learn how to be a salesman. Which I tell everyone is an essential life skill. It came naturally to me, and my boss helped me refine it.

At the age of 18, I rode the city bus to and from work 6 days a week while designing $350,000 kitchens for airplane garages. I’d make entire house bids for finished building materials by visiting the construction sites and reading blueprints. I worked strictly on commission, so my paycheck was a reflection of my efforts. I was making nearly $3,000 a month some months. That was BIG money for me. It still is!

I moved from the crackhouse to a nicer crackhouse and eventually a decent apartment. I finally met my (ex) husband, whom I spent the next 11 years of my life with.

I took advantage of marriage’s stability, got my GED, and enrolled in college in my early 20s to learn something. Just having the opportunity to learn was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to feel what it was like to get to be in school and try to make something of myself.

My mother went through nursing school, and for whatever reason, she had trouble finishing it. My real father didn’t go to college at all. The hunger to learn a skill must have just derived from survival. Your mind is an arsenal, and it’s what will carry you thru life as you work to achieve goals. I wanted my arsenal to be strong.

I’m terrified of being homeless. It’s what drives me daily to be the best at whatever I’m doing. I’m always “only this far” from being homeless in the back of my head.

I wasn’t just homeless when I was a teenager. My mother and I went through various homeless situations when I was young. For a few months, my mom, my baby sister, and I had to live in a car in the driveway of her senior sergeant.

My mom really knew how to make the best of a tragic situation. I’d watch her breastfeed my sister while we sang and danced in the car, blasting 80’s music in the middle of the night. She took us for drives to parks and lakes and around wealthy neighborhoods looking at all the fancy big houses she would dream of having one day if she won the lottery. Despite the situation, I have no recollection of my mom being sad during that moment in our life. It’s possible after all this time; I’ve just blocked those parts out.

As a kid, I just enjoyed being with my mom. She was very loving and always talked to us about morals, values, the meaning of life, and the importance of being responsible and respectful. She gave us lots of hugs, affection, and words of affirmation.

I watched my mom work very hard only to give us the bare essentials in life. My mother had her own challenging path to walk in life. She might not have always made the best choices. Still, I feel her intentions were always done to help us survive dealing with a worse situation. If I had not had a loving mom, I wouldn’t think I would be the same person I am today. I would be a much weaker, colder, and rageful human being with a bleak outlook on life.

After my college graduation from the Software Development program, I found it challenging to get work because most firms didn’t want to deal with a newbie.

So, the only option I felt I had, was to start a business of my own. I enjoyed making websites, so I made that my focus service.

I learned from being a salesman and watching my boss and his old school methods to just be honest and be raw. So my method of collecting clients was door to door, face to face, without appointments. I made a point to visit at least 10 businesses a week. I did cold calls when I found ugly websites that belonged to business owners across the USA. I started teaching myself SEO because I knew getting found on Google was the #1 way for me to get work.

I did this for an entire year. And after a whole year, I never had to step foot out of my house ever again to get website work. Everything was Google search or referral. My place had been carved so well that I started to rise in competition online with all the other local firms in Spokane.

And then they started calling me and asking if I wanted to work for them. In which I would reply, “yeah, I’m busy, but thanks!” 🙂

The college I graduated from took note of my small success and asked if I would like to be the featured student in their marketing campaigns.

So there was a time that my face was in every mailbox in the county, plastered on colorful postcards.

For a good period of time, my face could be found on multiple billboards all over Spokane County.

It’s certainly not my most attractive picture. But when I look at it, it reminds me that I worked very hard to achieve the pride I still feel today.

I’m now 38, and I’ve continued to stay in business since I graduated in 2010. I’ve also obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management.

Opportunity didn’t come knocking for me. I had to bust the door down. I busted my ass, so my mother’s efforts didn’t go unappreciated. I worked hard to set an example for my daughters.

I did my best in life with the lemons I was given. I took the bricks people threw at me and used them as the building blocks of my success.

Inquire about a website or find out more about Heather the web designer in Spokane here.

Ravenous Raven Design, Web Designer in Spokane

Ravenous Raven Design, Web Designer in Spokane

Opportunity for Washington is working to surface relevant and critical issues impacting communities in Washington, and bring groups together to offer pragmatic and fact-based remedies to solve the root causes with long-lasting positive outcomes.

Our organization promotes opportunity for citizens, families and businesses to thrive in an inclusive, common sense, business friendly, freedom-first Washington State.

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