Susan Vela at work. Photo by Colin Campbell

This is what Susan did with her first paycheck: she treated herself to a steak at Tad’s on Powell Street, (she is, after all, a native San Francisco lady of a certain age). Later that week it was wonton soup in Chinatown. But this, her most anticipated splurge, she related with pure glee: She took the SamTrans bus down to the San Mateo County Fair, where she bought the unlimited ride package, (“30 bucks” she proudly told me, “a bargain!”) and rode, over and over, in no particular order: the Rollercoaster , the Tiltawhirl and the Bobsled.

In February, Mission Local published my plea for help in finding Susan a job. I wrote about her multiple disabilities, her years of volunteering as a cherished and beloved patient ambassador at General Hospital, her wit and resilience despite illness, poverty and bad luck, and her Don Quixote-like quest for employment, with me, her vocational counselor at her side, a weary but loyal Sancho Panza who yearned to retire, but could not, not till Susan got a job.

My last day of work was June 27 and Susan is working! YAY for both of us. It took quite a few people to get Susan the job of her dreams. This is my shout out to all those who took notice and cared.

Frankly, I am a cranky person who distrusts the word “community,” but here I bend to the truth: San Francisco is still enough of a small town that the community worked together for Susan’s good. And mine.

First: Mission Local and Lydia Chavez: Nothing happens without you publishing my letter. That changed everything. Susan and I thank you.

Secondly, Amy Yu called me. She is the director of SCEPT (Senior Community Employment Program funded by the Department of Labor). They find training placements for low income San Francisco seniors, and in March, she placed Susan at EDD for 12 hours a week, where she was trained on the switchboard. Susan has a wonderful voice, a warm and welcoming tone, and despite her stone blindness, she memorized the keyboard and was learning to transfer calls. And, naturally, they loved her. This was a funding-limited placement at minimum wage, but it was her first paycheck in a hell of a long time, her bridge job.

Thirdly, Joshua Arce called me. He is the director of workforce development at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. He said, “How can we help?”

Fourthly, the clearly astute readers of Mission Local who commented on my piece all pointed out the logical solution: “WHY CAN’T ZUCKERBERG SF GENERAL HOSPITAL PAY HER FOR THE INCREDIBLE VOLUNTEER JOB SHE HAS BEEN PERFORMING SO ADMIRABLY FOR SO MANY YEARS?”

Before I published my wailing advertisement for Susan, I had TRIED that, dearly intelligent readers of Mission Local. I had approached several heads of departments, but I was told that Susan was unemployable in that role because she could not use a computer. They told me that Susan was a fantastic volunteer; she would get a pin and a plaque, a t-shirt and lunch. In the cafeteria.

When I countered that she deserved to be paid, they said unfortunately the job description for “patient ambassador” required use of a computer. Dead end. Full stop. Do not pass Go.

I told this history to Arce from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. He, quite simply, put us in touch with people in leadership positions at the Human Services Agency. They had the power to hire her to do the same gig under different funding, and with a different title. They know who they are, and I thank them.

Money was procured. Many, many, many HR papers were signed. A photo was taken. A badge was issued. When she found out her salary, Susan almost cried, “Naomi, I never made more than nine bucks and thirty cents an hour!” (Her salary is almost double that.)

But the last and most difficult point, the near deal-breaker, was identifying someone to be her supervisor. On site. Every day. Now, everyone who works off the North lobby knows Susan. This would be pharmacy staff, outpatient clinic staff, and billing department staff. For five years they have seen her interact with patients. She is there like a bird on a wire, loyal and true like a guard at Buckingham Palace.

And a longtime staff member volunteered to be Susan’s supervisor, extra responsibility in addition to her own job. To sign her timesheets, to see she is at her post. Without this one key individual, all we had was a house of cards and a mountain of good intentions. So, most important: Shout out to Brenda.

Dear reader, if you find yourself at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and if your path should take you through the lobby, Five North, old building, Susan’s Information Desk is on the right. She works from 7 a.m. to noon daily, and you might congratulate her on the job and mention you read about her in Mission Local. Tell her Naomi says hello.

Susan Vela manning the desk. Photo by Colin Campbell.

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  1. Naomi, you are an angel of the first degree and an excellent writer. You have blessed my sister a million billion trillion times! A gazillion thanks. Love Tony.

  2. Campers,

    “Everybody here has a job!”

    When I did my fellowship at Clemson in Special
    Ed I got to watch a number of fantastic programs
    and staff.

    One of the teachers made picture flip charts for students
    covering the most mundane to the more complex tasks.

    It was amazing.

    They’d do a step and then go over to find the next one.

    Teachers rock.

    I used to be one but I never felt worthy.

    Go Giants!


  3. Thank you for this wonderful article about Susan. I was glad to help her out as her Supervisor.