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June 28, 2023

After struggling with substance use and multiple instances with the justice system, 55-year-old Susan Rivera decided it was time to seek help and change the trajectory of her life. Susan was determined to help those with similar experiences find their path forward, but she recognized the importance of discovering her own path before being able to help others. Below Susan tells us how she changed her life and why she is thankful for those who helped her along the way.

Susan2 Hero

My journey towards a new life started in 2014, after being released from prison for the third time; this time, with a strike. I got involved in a recovery and wellness program through Interfaith Community Services and they helped me get back on my feet and re-enter society. 

Despite my life taking a positive turn, I faced significant challenges in securing a well-paying job that didn’t demand strenuous physical labor. I did work in shipping and receiving, janitorial, and manufacturing, but most of them offered inadequate pay, while those that did offer better wages put excessive strain on my body.  

Recognizing the need for a step forward, I realized that returning to school was my only viable option. So, I decided to enroll at the University of Phoenix in their Correctional Program Support Services program so I could help others impacted by the criminal justice system. Because I have lived experiences, I can speak to individuals impacted by the justice system in a way that resonates with their personal journeys. After receiving my bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix, I continued my studies and obtained a master’s degree in psychology. I felt that I had to go above and beyond to achieve my degrees in hopes that employers would overlook my past and consider me for a position. 

Even with my credentials, I knew I would need help finding a job, so besides uploading my resume on sites like Indeed and LinkedIn, I started looking online for places that provide job search support. While researching, I learned about the San Diego Workforce Partnership and other organizations that offer free services. I made an appointment with Crystal Hernandez, a career navigator at one of the Workforce Partnership’s career centers. After speaking with her and mentioning that I had significant issues with my resume—to the point that the websites where I had it posted were emailing me saying that they were not well written—Crystal referred me to Kristi Zimsky who conducts resume workshops at the career centers. After my first resume workshop, I felt like Kristi was a new friend and I knew I wanted to return to learn more. 

Kristi taught me to look at the resume writing process as telling a simple, but effective story about my career. I was putting too much information in my previous resumes and didn’t think about the limited time the person reading my resume had. 


Thanks to Kristi and Crystal who continuously sent me job opportunities, after improving my resume I started getting many more job interviews. I was so surprised at how caring everyone is at the career center. I left every meeting with them feeling hopeful. They are all about building people up and treating everyone equally—no matter your background or experience. 

Next, I sent my updated resume to Goodwill who also provides job search support, and a program specialist told me that my experience aligned with one of their open positions. She passed my resume along to her boss, who then set up an interview with me. I am now working as a job developer helping those who have gone through the justice system. 

I would not have achieved my career goals without the support of organizations like the Workforce Partnership. This experience is a reminder to anyone experiencing hard times or who feels haunted by their past, to remember that life is worth living and it’s not what you have done but what you are doing, or going to do, that counts.

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