Editor’s note: St. Matthew’s House resident Sandy Duvernay, 35, and her two children, Malachi, 5, and Michael, 1, were previously featured in a Daily News story about cold weather and its effects on the homeless. This is a follow-up to her search for employment.
In her cramped 10-by-10-foot room, Sandy Duvernay pulls out a clean black shirt and printed pants. With the lights turned off and only a little window light peeking through, Duvernay places the clothes neatly on her bed, coupling the outfit with a pair of simple, black flats. Her optimism seems to fill the tiny space she calls home.
After three months of job hunting and living with her two sons, Malachi and Michael, at St. Matthew’s House in East Naples, Duvernay finally has a job interview.
“I am so ready to work, it’s not even funny,” she said. “Just show me the task at hand.”
It’s 2:15 p.m. and Duvernay needs to be at the bus stop in an hour for her ride to Coastland Center mall.
Inside the room, she quickly pulled on her clothes, but questioned her choice of attire after examining her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Earlier in the week, Duvernay attended an “interviewing techniques” workshop at the Career and Services Center of Southwest Florida. There, she took notes on what to do during an interview, jotting down information on how to act, questions to ask, and what to wear.
“I’m going to take what I learned on Tuesday and apply it to today,” she said.
Outside, a few of the women at the shelter sit and catch up, their children playing with toys while a steady rain began to fall. Duvernay stepped out, dressed in her interview clothes.
“How does this look,” she asked Sheyla Cooper, a 21-year-old single mother who lives at the shelter with her son.
“It looks good. You look professional,” Cooper replied.
Duvernay went inside to quickly apply makeup, mixing three colors of lipstick to create the perfect shade of red.
“This only cost me a dollar,” Duvernay boasted.
For Cooper, Duvernay’s hard work has been a positive influence on her own life.
“Sandy is the type of person that keeps me motivated,” Cooper said. “She shows me that it can be done. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
A rumble of thunder bellowed through the hallway. Duvernay put the finishing touch on her outfit ― a quick spritz of perfume ― before she grabbed a pink umbrella and left the shelter for the bus stop.
“Maybe they’ll give me a chance today,” she said while taking refuge from the rain under the bus shelter. “I hope so. Lord, please.”
She arrived at the mall, and the food court was crowded.
Duvernay stood near the front, waiting to interview with someone from Panda Express. Third in line, she wasn’t the only person called back to speak with a manager.
Her optimism, however, shined through.
“I can do it,” she said, clutching her umbrella. “Doesn’t matter what it is ― I can do it.”
After a few minutes, area manager Lisa Chiu motioned for Duvernay to sit with her, signaling the start of the interview.
Five minutes passed, then 10.
Duvernay showed Chiu her schedule and explained her situation and current dependence on the bus system. Then, with a smile, Chiu stood and brought over store manager David Zhao, who shook Duvernay’s hand.
It was official ― Sandy Duvernay has a job.
With her eyes upward, Duvernay sighed a breath of relief.
“Thank you, Lord,” she said, her hands crossed as if in prayer. She promised Chiu to do the best job she can and planned to show up her first day with an essential part of the Panda Express uniform: a smile.
After the interview, Chiu said she was impressed with Duvernay’s knowledge of the company, noting that she definitely did her homework.
“Sandy is really outgoing and a people person,” Chiu said. “We are in the people business. She really did her research and could tell me all about my company.”
The small family celebrated with a ride on the Coastland Center carousel. Malachi and Michael rode with their mother; both smiling as lights from the mall swirled around them.
“I’m living proof that, even though bad decisions were made in my past, God is good,” she said. “I’ve reached out to God to help me and blessings came my way.”
St. Matthew’s House has been a stepping-stone for Duvarney, who came to the shelter a few days before Thanksgiving. Now, with a job and some help from the community, Duvarney knows things will be better.
“I have two beautiful, healthy boys and our basic needs are met every day,” she said. “God says to let your light shine and, right now, all I have is light.”