Meet Sarita

Cara Staff

She’s transforming her life, thanks to your support.

“I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I lived in a single parent household with my mother. I was a good student and stayed in the girl scouts until high school. All my life, I believed in the value of hard work. I had a job managing a BBQ house in Chicago Heights, but after my uncle died, who was like a father to me, I wanted to be able to take care of my family so I wanted something more.

“I started working at Fifth Third Bank as a customer service representative. I soon began to excel and got promoted to a financial service representative. I thought my life was on the right track, but I had a flaw. I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. I wanted people to like me. I wanted to fit in. This ended up costing me five years of my life.

“I met this guy. He drove nice cars, was charming, and promised me things. I couldn’t see him for what he really was and how he was taking advantage of me and my job. I let him persuade me to commit mail fraud. I had no idea what I was doing or the weight of it. He assured me I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I was young and naïve, so I believed it. But from that decision, I was sentenced to federal prison for 5 years.

“Here I was 25, climbing the corporate ladder, active in my church and community, now on my way to prison. I was in denial, devastated, embarrassed, and alone. But I also decided I wasn’t going to let my time in prison define who I was. I worked on the outside, so I was going to work on the inside.

“While I was incarcerated I held many jobs. One of the assignments that I took to heart was a job in the kitchen. I was promoted to a grade 1 cook. I planned holiday meals, I supervised a kitchen staff, and even cooked for the prison guards.

“It was very important to me that I didn’t lose who I was while incarcerated.

“When I was released in January 2016, I lived in a halfway house on the west side of Chicago. There I met a young lady who told me about a program giving out bus cards. All I could think was “I’m not looking for a handout.” I wanted to work, I wanted to get myself together. But that was how I found Cara.

“My first experience with Cara was Motivations. The clapping, the singing, the stories…I must admit I was little paranoid. I thought to myself “how could anyone be so cheerful this early in the morning!” But before I knew it, I became one of those cheerful people. One of the exercises that had a huge impact on my life was the mirror exercise.

“This involved looking at myself – really looking at myself – in the mirror and describing what I saw. I learned a lot about myself that day.

“And I began to find a common thread. I wanted people to like me so I could like me. I was looking for acceptance. But what I came to realize was I didn’t need validation from anyone. From that moment on I began seeking out what was in my best interest. What did Sarita’s goals look like? What did I want to do professionally?

“So I started my job search. It took me awhile to know what exactly I wanted to do but Cara was there to help. Through Cara, I got a job with Entertainment Cruises, working on the Spirit of Chicago as a server. That was in June 2016. That September, I interviewed, got offered, and accepted a job at Northwestern University as a catering cook. I was so ecstatic.

“I worked both jobs for a year. And then I began to feel that feeling again of wanting something better for myself. So I decided to enroll in culinary school to continue my education.

“In August 2017, I started at Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute. I have been on the Dean’s list for every semester and this November I will be graduating with my degree in culinary arts. And yet I am still striving for more. My next goal is to become a catering coordinator and own my own business.

“I want to thank Cara for giving me a starting place. My hope for the hundreds of others that Cara serves each year is for them to find what I have found in Cara – which is a place of encouragement, a place of support, and a place of hope. Cara refined and defined me!”