San Diego's Homeless Community Finds Hope in ‘Dreams for Change' and Life Off the Streets

A formerly unsheltered San Diego woman said the program helped her to "feel human again."

NBC Universal, Inc.

Ayoe Rydiander had reached the bottom of the barrel when she said: "I experienced homelessness, which I never thought I would."

She said she ended up in a shelter, adding that it was hard to believe that she once was earning $6,000 a month.

But Rydiander said she found out about a non-profit organization that would eventually lead her to regain her "dignity" and a way to earn a steady living once again.

It's called Dreams for Change, a San Diego non-profit that aims to help people living on the streets or those recently imprisoned to rebuild their lives.

The organization recently received a $16,000 grant from NBC Universal's Project Innovation to expand its Dream's Cuisine program, which proved to be a life-changer for Rydiander and so many others.

"I had lost everything in I couldn't get a regular job."

Ayoe Rydiander, Dreams for Change graduate

"I had lost everything in storage, my Social Security card, everything, so I couldn't even go get a regular job," said Rydiander.

The program is a step-by-step approach that teaches people like Rydiander job skills through a paid training program using a food truck.

The participants are put to work right away, learning everything from food preparation to selling meals to driving the vehicle, which are skills that can be applied to business management, or jobs in the food industry later on.

They take classes to learn "everything from those soft skills of how to...conduct an interview and be successful in the interview process to personal development," says Theresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change.

The program's goal is to remove the barriers that keep the homeless from a life away from the streets of San Diego.

"They're living on the street -- okay how am I going to work? "

Theresa Smith, Dreams for Change CEO

"They're living on the street -- okay, how am I going to work? I need to shower, I need, you know, all these things that I'm facing to even step into that job," says Smith.

Dreams for Change shows them the way to fill everyday needs like transportation or childcare or housing. They also teach participants how to manage their money.

Rydiander now is employed by Dreams for Change to run one of its food trucks, which provides discounted nutritious meals to low income people and the homeless.

"It has helped me get back on track, learn new skills, be involved in the community," Rydiander said. "I'm connected to resources. I can even pass on the resources to other people. I just love it. It's rewarding."

It's especially meaningful because she wants to pass those skills on to her son, who is homeless.

"He sleeps behind the bush. He's 31, and I can't help him."

Ayoe Rydiander, Dreams for Change graduate

"He sleeps behind the bush and I can't help him. He's 31," she explained. "I can't do the steps for him, but I know what it's like to be them out there even though I was blessed to be in a shelter. So every person that comes here, I treat them as if it's my own son."

Smith says, it takes a simple "yes" from those who choose to seek a path to stability, and Dreams for Change can show them the way.

"We put in a few pieces to help them out and then watching them grow and take off, you know and see those success stories and now seeing them be able to provide for their families. You know, it is very rewarding," Smith said.

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