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Vanessa Villarreal of Promises2Kids: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life

An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Villarreal.

Vanessa Villarreal is a former foster youth, whose past relationships and trials made others assume she was destined for failure. After giving birth to her daughter and receiving services from Promises2Kids, Vanessa was able to turn her life around and is now a Youth2Youth Peer Mentor at Promises2Kids and a student at MiraCosta College.

Thank you so much for sharing with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood was different than most; there was never a white picket fence or happy memories. I grew up sad and angry, life seemed unbearable, and often I was fighting with myself, and my emotions. I am 1 of 5 siblings that ended up in the foster care system. I experienced many things a child should never have to endure. I have been abused mentally, physically, and sexually. I moved around a lot as a child, even well before I entered the foster care system. My family dynamic was always broken; my mother was a heavy drug user and committed a crime that landed her with a sentence to life in prison. Her actions left us without a mother, and she had to give my siblings and I to her sister right after she gave birth to me. My dad was a victim of gang violence and died when I was a newborn. Living with these memories made life challenging, but I somehow restored the balance within my adult life and in my daughter’s life with the help of Promises2Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides foster youth with the hope, support, and opportunities to change foster youths’ lives for the better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quotes are by Steven Hawking… “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” and “However difficult life may seem, there’s always something you can do to succeed at it.”

Even though my upbringing wasn’t fair and the odds were against me, I never stopped to look at what I could do to change that. It wasn’t until I found the spark of hope within myself that was ignited by my daughter. I knew that the impact of my past could not make my future. If I wanted change to happen, I had to pave the way for my own success and utilize all my resources. I also grew to accept that my life habits would then, too, need to change, and that I would need to learn and move forward. After discovering Promises2Kids, I was able to get into therapy, which ultimately helped me in sharing my story.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

My top 3 qualities are that I have a presence, I am outspoken, and I am caring.

I never once stopped advocating for myself and my family. I know that speaking my mind isn’t always right, but if I choose to be outspoken, it’s what and how I say things that matter.

I was once told that as a young child that my peers looked up to me and that I was a born leader. I was told that my leadership qualities were strong, but where I would lead them, was up to me. Now, I mentor foster youth as a part of the Promises2Kids’ Youth2Youth peer mentor program. I’m currently mentoring seven youth as I help them walk through their own journey.

I have so much love and compassion for people, kids, and life. I want everyone to be happy and live to their full potential.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters.’ Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

I worked many jobs in the customer service field. I first started out working as an eyebrow tech and knew that my passion was somewhere out there. I ended up working a property management position for over two and a half years before I committed to my role as a Youth2Youth peer mentor with Promises2Kids.

With the support I receive from Promises2kids, I now have access to so many things. There are mentors, coordinators, and groups that are all designed to keep me on track for my life after foster care, and for our journey through college.

I remember the first day I decided to go back to school, I was embarrassed that I was going to be the only girl in class over the age of 24. I also became discouraged and doubted that I would even make it through my first semester. I was prompted by my school counselor to reach out to Promises2Kids to get financial support and to receive a mentor that would spend one-on-one time with me just to make sure I made it through school. I am currently attending MiraCosta College and will be graduating with 2 degrees in Behavioral Social Science with a transfer to SDSU at the end of this fall.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I was given an opportunity through Promises2Kids to join their team as a Youth2Youth peer mentor. I now work with foster youth on a daily basis by providing them with support to get into college, assistance in finding job resources, resume building, interview preparation, taking them on outings and so much more. The story comes full circle as I am now about to pass along the same support that I once received from Promises2Kids when I first learned about the organization.

I knew I wanted to give back to my community and make a difference. I knew that helping others who have completely given up on themselves would be my calling. I love working with former foster youth and the best part about my job is I can relate to their struggles, and I actually know how to help.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I was told that I wasn’t going to complete college, so there was no need to go back to school. After getting more involved with Promises2Kids, I was able to gain the strength to go back to college with the support of Promises2Kids and many other programs. Promises2Kids helped me with financial assistance, as well as keeping me on track to meet my goals. Now, I am able to say I work in areas that are relevant to my degree.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find it, and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

Well, to be honest, I am still in the process of developing all the skills needed to utilize my full potential. So far though, I have developed skills in time management, teamwork, leadership, and critical thinking. I went to many workshops and groups offered through my school that allowed me to access these skills within myself. I overcame the barriers by focusing on my own self growth and committing to changing my habits.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

It’s hard; the biggest setback in my life is me. I have grown accustomed to having my guard up, and letting people in scares me. I recently started expressing my love and emotions to my family without the anger behind it.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to my counselor at a former group home. His name was Reed. On my first day there, I caused a lot of commotion that resulted in many teens leaving their houses and heading into the snow. I remember him trying to get everyone back to their houses; he locked eyes with me and said that he was going to focus on me and help me. He never gave up, and I eventually graduated from that program at 18 and never looked back. He helped shape me into the woman I have become.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Since I have made so many changes in my life, my friends have been dropping. It’s interesting to see that people will suffer with you but choose not to grow with you.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

I still struggle with believing in myself, and it’s honestly a battle I face every day. I have one person in my life right now that is a true inspiration. My daughter inspires me every single day, she holds me to no standard and no judgment. Because of her, I believe that living this life is possible, that moving forward and exceeding everyone’s doubts and my own doubts are reachable. Because of her, I believe in myself and work to be the change I want to see.

In my own work, I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I looked for people and resources that would support me mentally and emotionally. I was paired with a mentor at Promises2Kids and made tangible goals and stuck to them. I also worked hard and saved.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone; how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I stopped talking about myself and started listening to others and their opinions. I used to think that I knew it all. But being successful in my line of work as a foster youth mentor means that I need to listen. I need to understand how others feel and what they think before I can help them. This was definitely something challenging I learned; I had to get out of my comfort zone.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

While I don’t lead an organization, I do lead a group of foster youth through my work at Promises2Kids.

“Don’t shoot too big,” being realistic with yourself and what you can accomplish is key. It’s all a process, so start from the bottom.

“Not everyone will be at your level and vice versa” I was so embarrassed to start back in college for my degree as I was older than most, but I knew that if I wanted to maintain my line of work and succeed, it would have to be done.

“Anything you set your mind to can be done.” I never knew the importance of hard work, everyone always told me to do better, but I never understood what hard work meant.

“You are going to make mistakes and big ones at that, but no one is perfect even if they may seem so on the surface.” I made many job changes and bad decisions and I thought that it was only me because everyone carried secrets.

“Do something that you love.” A lot of people find positions that are rewarding financially, and well, I seem to have found a position that is both. I am much happier now than where I was because I get paid well and love what I do.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I want to inspire those who are left behind. I would want to inspire those who have been forgotten. My movement would be to support everyone through every walk of life with mental stimulation, love and compassion. I want to inspire and remind people that even though they have been mistreated or unwanted, there is someone out there just like you that needs you just as much as you need them.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

Cher, from what I gathered, had her own experience in foster care, and all her success is inspiring. She has a phenomenal voice and such a strong presence. She is amazing.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!



In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Pirie Jones Grossman

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.