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Isela | San Diego

Isela | San Diego

Isela is a professional chef, entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three beautiful daughters. She has over 20 years of experience in the food and business industries in Colombia and the U.S. Isela came to the U.S. as a political asylee who fled her home in Cartagena due to the persecution by the government for her activism defending Black and Afro-descendant communities of Colombia. Isela was introduced to IRC resettlement services in February 2019 through the Survivors of the Torture program. 

Once Isela was settled and ready to start her business, she was referred to IRC’s Small Business Development Center and the WE STAR Program, where she received one-on-one business counseling services. She was able to establish her business and access a $15,000 business loan to buy a food truck for her business. Isela sells at local farmers’ markets, supplies to local specialty grocers, and caters for special events. The company is now investing in a food trailer to develop a restaurant chain and become a staple for Colombian food.

About IRC San Diego:

IRC San Diego’s “WE STAR” Program recognizes entrepreneurship as a viable option for low-income, immigrant, and refugee women to achieve economic mobility and lift themselves out of poverty. Many of these women face obstacles to financial stability, including a lack of: access to linguistically- and culturally-appropriate services, formal education, transportation, access to financial capital, and familiarity with business customs and regulations in the US. With WE’s support, barriers are reduced for these women to open and operate a successful small business through training and workshops, 1:1 business counseling, business licensing assistance, access to microloans, and assistance with marketing and bookkeeping, as well as social and emotional wellness support.

Vivian  |  San Diego, CA

Vivian | San Diego, CA

Vivian from San Diego, CA

Honoring a Local Mother and her Perseverance

Vivian is a Corpsmember and supervisor at Urban Corps of San Diego County, a WE grant partner since 2022. Urban Corps is a nonprofit, certified local conservation corps, and charter school, whose mission is to provide underserved young adults ages 18-26 the opportunity to expand their career opportunities through paid job training, support services and education.

Vivian joined Urban Corps a few years ago, after becoming a young mother and seeking opportunities for personal and professional growth. She graduated with her high school diploma in June 2022.

Currently, Vivian is working in the Environmental Department at Urban Corps, going to college in the evening to become a medical assistant, and taking care of her two young children. Her career goals are to get her foot in the door in the medical industry and further her education and training to become an ultrasound technician.

To successfully manage all the different aspects of her life, while living in a county with a challenging public transit system, Vivian needed a car. Through a pilot program funded by a WE grant, Urban Corps is able to provide vehicle down payment assistance for female Corpsmembers, setting them up for financial success and self-sufficiency after graduation. Vivian applied to this program and is proud to say she recently bought a car. She now doesn’t need to worry that the buses don’t run after her classes get out at night, and she happily reports that she can drive her children to school now.

Being a part of Urban Corps has empowered Vivian to strive for and reach her life goals like providing for her children, having a stable job, and working toward a career with greater opportunities. To her delight, Vivian will be graduating from her medical training soon and will continue to explore how she wants to develop her career.

Kaleah Smith  |  San Diego

Kaleah Smith | San Diego

Kaleah Smith from San Diego, California

Kaleah Smith had a challenging childhood. Kaleah moved dozens of times, attended 30 schools and was in dozens of foster homes and group homes. Kaleah was expelled from school and sent to juvenile hall when she was 14. At that time, she was removed from her current foster home, separated from her younger brother and ran away several times, violating her probation.

This led to Kaleah not finishing high school. At the age of 16, Kaleah was working, trying to support herself living on her own. At the age of 18, Kaleah aged out of foster care and went to live on her own. In 2019, Kaleah and her fiancé moved to San Diego, and she started her second chance high school diploma program at Urban Corps Charter School. Kaleah also got connected to Just in Time for Foster Youth, where they helped her get her first place by herself in El Cajon. This came at just the right time and she is very proud of this accomplishment, after she spent several months in a homeless shelter.

Kaleah didn’t let her circumstances define her. At Urban Corps, Kaleah works with a City of San Diego homeless encampment and beautification crew where she works to pick up trash and bulky items to make neighborhoods, parks, and open spaces safer. Kaleah is graduating from Urban Corps Charter School in December 2022. Kaleah is ambitious and has big goals. Before she graduates, she wants to obtain her driver’s license and receive new trainings and certifications. After graduation, Kaleah wants to go to college for cosmetology, sociology and nursing. Her other goals? To be married with a big family, financially and spiritually stable.

Bobbie | California

Bobbie | California

Meet Bobbie: Workforce Development Trainee. Dreams for Change is a WE partner that serves as a lifeline and beacon of hope for San Diegans experiencing homelessness. Through their innovative workforce development program, Dreams Cuisine, women who are homeless or housing insecure are paid wages to train and work on food trucks while building their soft skills and gaining vital on-the-job experience. WE is thrilled to announce the renewal of our partnership with Dreams for Change and support an anticipated 23 women through the program in the year ahead. As low-income San Diegans face greater obstacles than ever, we are grateful to stand with them and empower women striving for better lives.

Nagiba | California

Nagiba | California

Nagiba, Entrepreneur in San Diego.

From IRC San Diego’s Facebook post: Nagiba got her first sewing machine when she was 11 years old and spent much of her life making traditional Iraqi costumes and clothes for her neighbors and friends. After fleeing her home with her husband and two daughters, learning English as a second language and working to support her family for many years, she was able to open up her own business in El Cajon. From enrolling her in our Vocational ESL classes and work readiness training to helping her get her first job in the States to providing her with small business counseling and support, we are proud to have supported Nagiba every step of the way, as she rebuilt her life in San Diego.

Today, she is an entrepreneur, seamstress, former refugee, and our hero for sewing face masks to keep San Diegans safe through COVID MASK UP! Thank you to our community partner Women’s Empowerment International for their support of refugee entrepreneurs like Nagiba! (And we thank you, IRC, for being an amazing partner!) 

Aneta | California

Aneta | California

Aneta: A California Entrepreneur

It was 2009 when Aneta immigrated to California from her native Iraq. Like many of the new Americans we serve, Aneta had been highly trained in her home country where she had learned the ancient art of threading from a master threader. Threading is a natural, chemical-free hair removal technique that’s increasingly popular in the U.S.

She dreamed of owning her own threading business in her new home. And so she got prepared.

After earning a degree in Business Administration, Aneta shared her dreams and plans with the WE STAR Center to open her own threading studio. She received much-needed assistance with licensing, permitting and business planning.

Today, her studio, Threading by Aneta, is thriving. Her warm, tastefully decorated space in San Diego’s Clairemont neighborhood attracts a regular clientele. And while she is also an experienced hair stylist and cosmetologist, threading remains her true passion. Call Aneta to make an appointment and support our wonderful entrepreneur: