The Where I Work series explores San Antonio’s evolving workplaces. It takes readers behind the scenes to learn from the people who work at companies large and small, nonprofits, family-owned enterprises, and in other nontraditional workplaces. Get in touch to share your story.

Though my official position at Merced Housing Texas is resident services coordinator, what I really see myself as is a resource center for the people who live here. As a single mother who raised three children on her own, I’ve been where they are and know how difficult it can be if you don’t know where to turn for help.

When my children were younger, there were times we didn’t have enough to eat. I remember going to a food pantry once and getting turned away. As my daughter and I were walking away, she was crying and I was trying to tell her everything would be OK. Then as a truck turned at the stop sign next to us, a box fell off the truck. The driver just kept going, so I decided to look in the box. It was a box of chicken wings.

I took that box home, and we ate chicken wings every which way for as long as I could stretch it. That box fed us for a while. I remember thinking, “God, you knew I needed this right now.” I thank the Lord for helping me see that there is hope. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to help people.

I started in the nonprofit sector as the children’s art teacher and senior ceramics teacher at the Madonna Center. When that grant-funded position was over, I jumped to the House of Neighborly Service and wore many hats. Then, I applied at Merced Housing Texas and was hired as a resident services coordinator.

Merced Housing manages 15 apartment communities in Texas, providing affordable homes for 1,715 families. Our resident services program provides supportive services at no cost to residents in the areas of education, employment, financial literacy and health. We also have an owner-occupied repair program that assists low-income senior and disabled homeowners with health- and safety-related home repairs.

In my role, I get to welcome residents to their new homes and help them find the resources they need to be successful. I assist families with school information for their children, provide resources and referrals, invite them to resident events, and connect them with volunteer opportunities.

I love seeing the residents come out for events and encourage families to participate together. As someone who has always been artistically inclined, the arts activities are always my favorite.

Having resident services coordinators on-site at apartment communities to assist residents with rent issues, utility assistance, food and other needs is important. The coordinators are there to direct residents to resources in the community and to provide referrals and follow-ups with families and individuals. We help them get bus passes and information on Medicaid benefits. This is all information that is sometimes difficult to navigate on your own. Some residents don’t have the know-how to find the assistance they are needing. Resident services coordinators help reduce the cost burdens that families deal with every day.

I started the job with just a small desk in a conference room and now I have my own office that I’ve built into a resource center for residents. I see this as my little sanctuary and see everyone who walks in as a friend.

DeeAnn Guajardo, a resident services coordinator at Merced, speaks with residents during a community event on Tuesday.
DeeAnn Guajardo, a resident services coordinator at Merced, speaks with residents during a community event on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

My work has definitely changed the way I view others’ needs. Some say don’t take your job home with you, but that is just about impossible for me. I’m grateful to have built strong relationships with my residents and earned their trust, so I definitely take their struggles to heart. One resident needs a bus card to start school and to take her children to daycare. Another has some car repairs she cannot afford. Another lost her job and is in need of food. I go home thinking of these residents and what I can do to help them.

My job can be demanding and stressful, and I’ve learned that I need to take care of myself to be able to continue to do the work. Yoga and swimming help me de-stress and release the emotions that often weigh on me.

In November, I will have completed 10 years of service as a resident services coordinator. The joy of meeting new residents and the satisfaction of being able to answer questions and provide solutions to their needs have been incredibly rewarding. Most rewarding, however, is the sigh of relief from the residents when they get the assistance they need. I’ve been where they are and want them to see there is hope and there is a way out. That’s what motivates me every day to continue doing the work.

DeeAnn Guajardo is a resident services coordinator at Merced Housing Texas.