Kyla’s Story - SHIM

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Kyla’s Story

Cropped KylaOur SHIM family is made up of truly wonderful human beings. We are grateful for the kindness and generosity of both those we serve and those who serve alongside us. In fact, sometimes they are one in the same. From pantry clients who volunteer with set up to women’s group attendees who provide childcare, we value our community paying it forward.

If you’ve ever attended one of our pantries, you’ve probably met our basic needs coordinator Kyla. Originally a client of SHIM programs, Kyla now gives back as a vital part of our team. Her positive attitude and nurturing nature help clients feel welcome and hopeful.

Kyla was born and raised in Clairton as the oldest of nine siblings. She lived with her mom, who was raising six kids by herself. Kyla was granted legal independence at age 16. After graduating high school, Kyla joined the army before returning to Pittsburgh in 2000.

“We lived in the projects. Honestly, me and all my siblings beat the odds. If you look at it statistically, somebody should have had a drug or alcohol problem or ended up in jail.”

Kyla was living in Clairton with her son, but after he started kindergarten and she saw the metal detectors being installed at his school, she knew she had to consider moving.

“For young men, either you were an outstanding athlete, or you had to sell drugs.”

After visiting Oklahoma as a young mom, Kyla decided to raise her kids there. She saved up six months of rent to afford the move with her kids. Trained as a respiratory therapist, she had good job prospects and was able to support her family.

Kyla spent twelve years in Oklahoma before moving back to Pittsburgh to be closer to family. When her grandmother’s health began to decline, she realized the importance of nurturing familial bonds, especially those she had with her children. Kyla’s work as a respiratory therapist often required working nights, making it difficult to spend time with her kids. After moving back to Pittsburgh, she realized that a career change was necessary to prioritize time with her kids. Kyla chose to move to Bethel Park because it has a small-town feel like her home in Oklahoma. She knew it would be a supportive place to raise kids.

Prioritizing time with her kids made Kyla’s job search more difficult. As she worked to find jobs that allowed her to be home in time for dinner, she realized that such jobs typically offered lower pay. She had to make some tough financial choices to keep up with extra expenses, such as extracurricular activities for her three kids.Kyla and Marquise

“I’m a single mom of three. I’ve always needed help. If I didn’t make it happen, it didn’t happen. I never wanted my kids to struggle or lack because of that.”

When she got behind on utility bills, she was referred to SHIM to get utility assistance. She met with SHIM’s senior operations coordinator, Molly, who helped her gain assistance and referred her to our food pantry program. Even though Kyla lived on the same block as SHIM, she had no idea all that we did!

“When I first realized what SHIM was, I didn’t know everything that was offered. I knew to come here for utility assistance. I came here, it was a friendly environment. Molly was nice and helped me handle my problem.”

When Kyla attended food pantry distributions, she watched Molly running around managing everything with a team of dedicated volunteers. She couldn’t believe Molly was the only SHIM employee in the food pantry and personally suggested that Molly needed some help!

Five years later, with SHIM’s growth and the increasing demand in the community, we expanded the staffing for our food pantry operations. Originally a part-time position, Kyla applied for the job because she appreciated the flexibility. Recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she was hesitant to commit to full-time employment until she felt that her disorder was being managed fully. She participated in the Three Cups of Coffee program at Pennsylvania Women Work where she worked with a mentor to enhance her resume and make career decisions. She finally determined that SHIM was a good fit.

“This is the very first job that I ever got because I wanted it, that I felt passionate about, that it was something that I wanted to do. Other jobs, it was because I had to be home at a certain time for my kids or where was it located to fit into my life. This is what I feel like I was meant to do.”

Kyla jumped in right away, learning as much as possible. From placing food bank orders and managing food distributions benefiting 3,500 people each month to leading teams of volunteers and answering utility assistance calls, Kyla took on her duties with determination. She quickly learned the ropes and built relationships with volunteers and clients.

Kyla empathizes with clients because she knows how they feel. She’s noticed that people think they need to be down and out to access the food pantry, but the reality is that many people benefit from attending pantry distributions sooner because it can keep them from getting so far behind on bills. She sees new faces at every pantry distribution, and they are all grateful for the help.

Kyla can deeply relate to clients’ feelings and experiences because they mirror her past experiences. Whether they need some space or need a shoulder to cry on, Kyla helps each person feel welcome and safe.

Kyla with pantry client“It rains on the just and unjust. There is a point in time in life where everyone needs help. Just because this is where you are right now, this is not where you have to be. Just because you need help today doesn’t mean you’ll need help tomorrow. There is no shame in asking for help.”

We know that taking care of basic needs is essential in giving people a hand up. When you’re wondering if you have enough food to feed your kids it can be hard to do any long-term goal setting. Kyla encourages people to write down goals and address problems one by one to help them find their path to self-sufficiency.

“Being here at SHIM, is the first time I felt like I was doing my calling, that I was where I was supposed to be. It gives me a chance to give back. There have been people that encouraged me, that gave me advice and now I’m in that position. With the job that I have, it allows me to have a bigger impact, to reach more people.”

Here at SHIM, we know that helping neighbors is more than just a job. It’s a calling. Being an active member of our community is important, and we understand that everyone has an important role to play. Whether you’re donating or receiving food, whether you’re giving or getting help, we value you, our neighbors.

“We’re not just a food bank to some people, we’re not just a family center, we’re not just somewhere to help with bills. To some people, we are all they’ve got. Not only do we provide services, but we provide connection, community, and a support system.”

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