36-year-old Esmeralda Soto-Parraz was born in the small city of Hollister, California. She and her family moved to California’s Central Valley when she was ten and moved to San Francisco in the late ‘90s to attend San Francisco State University, where she took general education classes. She interrupted her university studies to move back home due to illness in her family. When she returned to the Bay Area, she worked for various companies, mainly in administrative and customer service positions.
It was during this period that her vision began to change. “When I was about 23 years old, I woke up one morning with irritated eyes and blurry vision. As her vision worsened, Esmeralda found her eyes were more sensitive to light; she was less able to differentiate between colors and her vision changed to the point that she was considered legally blind.
At first she felt stuck; she stayed indoors and felt her confidence wavering as she worried that her decreasing vision would prevent her from working. But she didn’t stay stuck – she connected with the California Department of Rehabilitation who referred her to technology training and mobility and travel training. She made progress, including learning new computer skills that enabled her to work with low vision. When it was time to take the next step and get back into the workplace, her counselor, Douglas Mochidome, recommended the eight-week LightHouse Employment Immersion program.
Esmeralda graduated with our March class and told us some of the things she got out of the program: “I learned so much. The class really boosted my confidence – the mock interviews helped me prepare for job interviews and I began to feel less nervous and more at ease. I learned about networking, how to make my resume stronger and about how and when to disclose my low vision to a potential employer. And [Program leader] Kate Williams and [Program Coordinator] Justine Harris-Richburgh, well I call them ‘angels on my shoulder’. They are dedicated to what they do and have been so supportive.”
Kate Williams told us, “Our class encouraged Esmeralda to believe that she absolutely could become employed again – and being in the classroom with other supportive blind and low vision job seekers helped foster her confidence. She worked hard to improve her resume and really brought her employment history to life with more depth – now it truly tells the story about all the benefits she can bring to an employer.”
Kate and Justine recognized that Esmeralda’s serene demeanor and ability to connect with the people she meets would be an asset to any employer. After graduation she learned that LightHouse had an opening for a part-time receptionist and interviewed for it. Though she had applied with other employers, when she was offered the job here, she decided to take it. “It’s a great opportunity to work with my own community. I love having the chance to direct blind and low vision folks to services that will help make them more independent.”
We’re delighted to welcome Esmeralda as our new receptionist. She encourages anyone looking to get back in the job market to consider enrolling in the LightHouse Employment Immersion Program. She said, “I’d tell people interested in the Employment Immersion class not to hesitate – the class is great – it gives you a chance to get to know people in the low vision community and it gets you to put your foot in and apply for positions you are interested in without worrying about your vision. Plus my classmates have become like family and continue to be supportive.”
How to Apply
Are you ready to take the next step to finding that great job? Our next class begins Tuesday, July 29, and you may still have time to enroll. Don’t wait, contact Justine Harris-Richburgh at 415-694-7366 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Kate Williams at 415-694-7324 or email@example.com.