“Successful mothers are not the ones that have never struggled; they are the ones that never gave up despite their struggles.” Lorena “Lori” Garcia carries this note written by her daughters in her work truck every day. “It’s been faded by the sun over time, but it always brightens my day.”
Lori grew up in El Paso, Texas. Shortly after her high school graduation, she decided to join the U.S. Air Force. Lori served her country as a Supply and Administration clerk in San Antonio, Texas, Little Rock, Arkansas, Biloxi, Mississippi, and Iraq in support of Operation Desert Storm.
“I wanted to fly airplanes so I joined the Air Force in 1992. Transitioning to military life was a drastic lifestyle change. One of my lasting memories involves getting off the bus at Lackland AFB and dropping my bag while in line. It was the loudest sound that I had ever heard, and I was subsequently yelled at. I wondered how I was going to get through this.”
“I had never left home and became incredibly homesick. I kept in mind what my father had always told me; to give everything my best effort. I later became head of my flight squadron and got to lead them in marches, help with GI training, and mentor recruits. I remember an airman who used to cry every night from homesickness, and I helped ease her into military life. She became close with my family and they attended her graduation.”
“Right out of Bootcamp while serving in Mississippi for two weeks in 1993, I volunteered to serve in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. As part of the C130s supply team, we put parachutes on crates and made sure that troops on the ground were well-supplied. We were far away from friends and family, but we were united in accomplishing our mission.”
“During my military career, I became an Airman First Class and studied to become an informational specialist. I felt incredibly proud to wear the uniform and serve my country. However, before my fourth year while serving in Little Rock, AR, I became pregnant. I asked for a transfer to El Paso to be closer to my family, but they couldn’t accommodate me at the time, so I received an honorable discharge. I moved back and signed up for the inactive reserves. A couple of years later, when I was about to be deployed to Iraq, I discovered that I was pregnant again with my son, and formally left the service.”
“My children are the light of my life; we share a special bond, forged and solidified by overcoming difficult times together. This became especially true when my ex-husband became emotionally abusive. He would tell me that no one else would take us if I left. For a long time, I believed him.”
Lori eventually made the courageous decision to leave her husband to create a better future for herself and her children. Starting over again was not easy, they were left homeless. With true resilience, Lori started her own landscaping business.
“In the early days, we would sleep in our car in parking lots that I was hired to restripe at night while they were empty. When landscaping jobs were slow, I worked as a Bounty Hunter to help supplement my income. I eventually earned enough money to move us into an apartment. I felt incredibly proud to develop this independent life, all on my own.”
The years of hard work began to take their toll on Lori’s health. “I started having back pain while in the Air Force and while landscaping, but I needed to work through the pain to provide for my kids. Eventually, I realized that I needed to quit. Fortunately, I met a person who worked for PRIDE Industries, and they told me about their mission to create opportunities for people with disabilities and veterans. I was impressed and joined PRIDE Industries in 2016 as a Maintenance Trades Helper.”
“From the start, PRIDE Industries was incredibly supportive. I had prior carpentry experience but was given a lot of hands-on training and support.” Through Lori’s hard work, she was promoted to a General Maintenance Worker within her first 90-days of employment. “My goal is to be promoted to Carpenter before 2020, and I am working with my supervisor to check off the needed skills to be ready to apply when a position becomes available.”
To avoid making her back injuries worse, Lori is paired with another employee who can assist her in performing heavy lifting. PRIDE’s Vocational Rehabilitation team of counselors and job coaches are also available for assistance.
“Working in the carpentry field is often challenging, but my job provides meaning and I enjoy the opportunity to continue supporting the military. Civilian life does not have the structure as military life; I feel comfortable and at home at PRIDE. My advice to other veterans would be to not give up when the times are rough and use your training to help with everyday life.”