Meet Sarah Verdugo – Empowerment Center Graduate and Marvel Way Resident

Sarah Verdugo was in treatment at The Empowerment Center in 2020. She currently lives in a 1-bedroom apartment at Marvel Way. She’s exploring going back to school, manages the Marvel Way community garden, and is enjoying getting to know her new sober community.

Before Sarah’s recovery, she was in multiple domestic violence situations and, she shares, “drank to not deal with what was happening.” When one of her ex’s punched her in the eye and partially blinded her, she had been working towards a new life, with a high paying job that would allow her to live on her own. Faced with being blind, “I completely gave up because I had everything taken from me in an instant.” She began drinking whenever she had the chance. “I didn’t want to have to deal with this new scary life” and “drinking was the point, at that point.” When her situation at home became increasingly violent, she knew she couldn’t continue to live as she was. She researched treatment programs, knew she needed a woman-focused recovery, and applied to The Empowerment Center.

sarah verdugo with hose in marvel way community garden

Sarah’s Recovery

With the help of The Empowerment Center and Marvel Way, Sarah has focused on both her recovery from addiction and physical healing. She’s had multiple surgeries, as well as physical therapy. While she’s still considered legally blind, her eyesight has improved and she can once again drive.

Sarah’s clean dates are March 21, 2021 and November 21, 2022. After treatment, Sarah returned to her previous living situation, realized how problematic it continued to be, and got out. Her second clean date represents the day she reclaimed her power by taking steps to leave her domestic violence situation, which included drinking for a weekend so her ex would bring her to a detox program. While in detox, Sarah received the help she needed to escape this relationship and move into her new home at Marvel Way in December 2022.

sarah verdugo in nature facing sideways with sun in backgroundsarah verdugo in nature facing sideways with sun in background

sarah verdugo in nature facing sideways with sun in backgroundsarah verdugo in nature facing sideways with sun in backgroundMoving to Marvel Way

Today, Sarah is grateful to have landed at Marvel Way. She notes, “It’s helped me to grow as a person, to stand more on my own two feet, want to have goals and say, ‘oh wait, those are truly are my wants and desires.’” To her, Marvel Way provides more than just security and stable housing – it’s her community. Living here, while everyone’s story and background is different, all share a common bond and understanding. They support one another. “This place feels kind of like a positive and supportive continual group meeting at times,” she notes. It’s a place where “I can be me, with all my weirdness and silliness and have fun, but also I can share when I’m hurting or struggling with stuff, like mental health and addiction.”

Living at Marvel Way, Sarah is learning how much people truly want to help. They’re offering support both through Empowerment Center programs – like weekly therapy visits with UNR students earning internship hours while pursuing their degrees – and from staff who are helping her figure out what she needs. This is new to Sarah, as her family placed her heavily in the caretaker role from a young age. When she made it known that she had too many boxes of belongings filling her living space to have to sort through, Marvel Way had a solution. They gave her access to a storage shed so she could sort through everything at her own pace. To Sarah, Marvel Way is “the best case scenario.” It’s the affordable home and supportive community she needs to discover who she is and work towards her next healing steps.

14 handmade gift boxes made in art therapy by the women of reno's empowerment center recovery program

Running the Marvel Way Community Garden & Teaching Empowerment Center Art Classes

Sarah has always loved to garden. At Marvel Way, she’s the unofficial manager of the apartment complex’s community garden.

Growing up, as the oldest female granddaughter, she was often overwhelmingly responsible for watching over a large amount of cousins much younger than her all at the same time.  One of her favorite places to take them was her grandma’s gardens in the backyard. It kept everybody safely in one place. A love of gardening was instilled in Sarah from a young age, and that she’s always felt connected to. “No matter where I’ve gone, it’s something I’ve had to have, a part of the Earth.”

When Sarah lived in small apartments, she grew herbs, or helped to facilitate a small spot on the side of her building. She’s set up huge gardens along the edge of her mother’s house. Later, in one of her domestic violence situation, Sarah’s “one escape, the chance to be alone away from the house and him was to landscape for the same company he worked for.” She learned about more than just growing, including how to plan landscapes, select plants, and set up piping and irrigation systems for larger projects.

In addition, Sarah’s always been passionate about art. While in treatment at The Empowerment Center during Covid lockdown, she taught art classes to other women in the program. Some of her projects included making gratitude jars, guided acrylic paintings of a mother and child, and –  her favorite – having each woman decorate a large set of paper feathers and combining them to create a giant set of angel wings. Finding new ways to express herself creatively has been a key piece of Sarah’s recovery, and she’s appreciated opportunities to share this with her peers.

sarah verdugo surounded by sunflowers

What’s Next for Sarah?

Sarah will always find joy in gardening and art and has considered opening a floral shop but, she explains, “the one thing I’ve known about myself is that if it’s a hobby, don’t make it my career, because I may lose interest. When it’s something you have to do, it can create a lot of extra-intense anxiety and stress.” For now, she’s focusing on her mental health, personal growth, physical healing , and building her sense of community. She’s “trying to slow down and take one thing at a time and not have to speed through it all,” and with stable, affordable housing at Marvel Way – she feels fortunate that she doesn’t have to.

Looking to the future, Sarah’s goal is to go back to school and she’s considering working in healthcare. As a teen, Sarah wanted to become a pediatric oncology nurse. She started college, has many transferrable credits from several university programs, and acknowledges that one of her next steps will be to figure out which will transfer, and which program is best for her. With the help of The Empowerment Center, she’s already had her previous student loans forgiven, through a service that helps people who are legally blind. She’s been looking into medical assistant, licensed practical nurse, certified nursing assistant, and other certificate programs that are shorter than nursing school. She sees these options as stepping stones.

No matter what path Sarah takes, she knows it will be a better one. “Now that I’m sober, I have so much more life ahead of me. I finally have the room and space to take my time to discover who I truly am.”