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Lee Farrand could have quit when she got pregnant at the age of 16. In fact, there were several times in her life that quitting would have been easier, but she didn’t.
“My goals didn’t change when I had my daughter. The time frame just got really stretched out,” Lee said. “Education was always important to me, but I just got a boyfriend and got pregnant. That’s all.”
Many young mothers can relate to this anecdote. They can relate to this moment of panic, when they realize that their life will be forever changed. But, as Lee says, it does not have to be the end.
“Where you are in your circumstances is not where you have to be or where you have to stay,” she said. “If you really fight, and you have grit, and you have determination, and you get up every day and you just take responsibility for your life, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been – it just matters where you want to get to.”
Where Lee wants to get to is the very top, and she is well on her way. From volunteering at Asian Services to a career at Highlands Community Charter School, Lee has moved up in the ranks of social service at light speed.
Lee now works in Program Development at Highlands, and said she was drawn to the school because of its mission and how it would save children, like her daughter, heartache.
“I liked it because I thought, ‘No child should have to cry that they don’t have their parents.’ If I can save another mom or dad from going back to prison through the work that I do, and so their child doesn’t have to go through that – it’s definitely worth it,” she said.
But really, Lee’s passion for social work began long before she was hired at Highlands.
“One day I saw this article in Sacramento Magazine about the 10 most powerful people and I was just like, ‘I’m going to work for one of these people.’ And I would search their websites every single day, all 10 of them, for jobs,” Lee said. “Until some day a case manager position came up at the Urban League and I got it.”
By the age of 22, Lee sat in a highly desired position at the county with her four year old daughter by her side.
“I was always the youngest person in the office,” Lee laughed. “My life has always been on the fast track.”
While Lee passes this accomplishment off as the “fast track,” one teacher at Highlands, Warren Murphy, who worked with her at Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA), explains why Lee’s life has evolved so quickly.
“She’s sharp as a tack, ” Murphy said. “She’s very, very strong. It didn’t surprise me when I got here and saw her in an administrative position. She is definitely the person for it. She has literally seen everything and literally dealt with everybody. I mean, she had to deal with us and she wasn’t ever afraid of us. We was some rough looking dudes, working in the prisons, but she hung.”
In fact, Lee has been devoted to the public service sector for 13 years now.
“I’ve worked with federal parolees. I’ve worked with murderers. I’ve worked with pedophiles. I’ve worked with gang members. I’ve worked with everybody,” she said. “I’ve always worked in the hood. I’ve always worked in communities where lots of people wouldn’t work.”
As Lee explained, breaking down the barriers that society has built up is one of the best ways to make a better community, because being such an integrative part of Sacramento’s community development has given her a perspective not many share.
“Being inside somebody’s house that somebody would typically stereotype, and being able to see the way people’s homes function just like anybody else’s,” she said. “To just see people for who they are, you know?”
Fortunately for us, and for our students, great minds like Lee’s exist within our walls to give us that perspective – to fuel our fire for social change – to push us when we do not want to be pushed.
“I understand that everything is not equitable – I get that. But there is no replacement for hard work and determination – at all,” Lee said. “It’s going to be hard – for sure. But being broke is much harder. I guarantee you. So, you can do this.”