“You never expect it to happen to you.” Dulce’s eyes start to glisten. She is sitting on a brand new microfiber couch in a partially furnished three bedroom apartment in East San Jose. “Everything can change in one day.” Looking around she says, “Everything you see here is a gift. All that we own now was given to us. Even this apartment.” A matching dining room table set, a basket of books and toys in the hallway, and the couch she is perched on are all brand new.
It has been nine months since Dulce’s family lost their home and all their material possessions in the San Jose floods. When Coyote Creek unexpectedly overflowed its banks on February 20th, hundreds of homes were flooded and over 14,000 residents were forced to evacuate. “It was about 10am when I heard the yells of the firefighters on the loud speakers,” Dulce remembers. “The water had risen up past the driveways. The firefighters said that we all had to evacuate immediately, and were taking people from their homes in boats. I grabbed about four diapers and left. I assumed I’d be back by the end of the day.” Dulce shakes her head. It’s now been almost a year since the incident, and it’s doubtful her family will ever be able to return to their home due to all the damage. “From there we went to the shelter, and that’s where it all started.”
The name Dulce, Spanish for sweet, fits this courageous mother of three well. Dulce’s family is originally from Mexico. Her husband works in construction from 4am through 11pm every day. He has not missed a single day of work in the year since the flood. Together they have a teenage daughter, a ten year-old Rocketeer, and their baby, Said, who was barely three weeks old when they lost their home.
What do you do when you lose everything? Many of us have safety nets to absorb shocks like this. But for an immigrant family whose rent controlled apartment of eight years is destroyed in one of the most expensive housing areas in our nation, losing everything can quickly spiral into loss upon loss. “You realize how fragile life is. Especially if you are poor,” Dulce shakes her head somberly. She pulls out her phone, and navigates to a photo of her son, Cesar, in his Rocketship school uniform. His face is aglow with candlelight, as he beams up from a birthday cake with ten gleaming candles. “You also are reminded how important people are,” Dulce adds, smiling softly. Tragedy is never a welcome guest, but it does remind us of what is important in life. It brings community together, and finds support in unexpected places. “I never thought it would be Cesar’s school who would would be there supporting us in our darkest moments. Without the help of Rocketship, we wouldn’t have any of this.”
“I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.” Cesar recites this from the Rocketship Creed every morning at Mateo Sheedy’s launch. Those words have never held more meaning than now. Dulce’s voice moves up half an octave as she lists the names of Rocketship staff and teachers who have delivered meals, clothes, and provided her family with an outpour of love and support. Over 30 Rocketship families from nine Bay Area schools were directly impacted by the flooding in San Jose. Our network quickly went into high-alert to identify all these families and mobilize support. We established a fund with Catholic Charities that would pay for rental deposits, insurance deductibles and other big ticket expenses that our Rocketeers were facing. Together we raised over $62,000 to support our community in a time of crisis. This fund has made all the difference for Dulce and her family. It has helped pay for a safe apartment for the family, food, clothing, and care for her newborn baby.
“My family is so thankful for the support we received from everyone at Rocketship,” Dulce rises from her position on the couch. It’s time to pick Cesar up from school. “I want to thank the Rocketship donors for helping us when we lost everything. For giving us nights where we could rest, knowing our children were safe and sound. Above all, thank you for the spirit behind your generosity.”
At Rocketship we work in communities where the achievement gap is real. Our mission is founded on the fundamental belief that all children deserve the chance to realize their full potential. That mission calls on us all to come together to tackle some of the deeply rooted systemic inequities that hold our entire nation back. As Dulce’s story reminds us, when immediate disaster or misfortune strikes any one of our families, we band together and we come through for our community.
That’s what we do, and that’s a lot to be thankful for.