Meet Pamela Ward: A Story of Hope

It was 1986 and Pamela Ward was awarded a degree.  Not an ordinary degree but an advanced degree, an M.A. in Education, Administration, and Policy Analysis from prestigious Stanford University.  And Pamela was not your ordinary Stanford graduate student.  An African American single woman, Pamela became pregnant by a heroin addict at age 16 and was raising her two children and her stepson as she mastered the curriculum.  And Pamela did what few have been able to attain – completing her Masters in only 9 months.  Pamela kept going.  She continued her studies and raised her children without any spousal support.    Pamela completed her doctoral coursework at Stanford and then it happened.  Pamela suffered a major bout of depression. It was her first but it would not be her last.

Life growing up wasn't easy for Pamela.  Raised with her siblings by her single mom, Pam was frequently left home alone with her sisters as her mom worked at night.  She recalls, starting at age 4, fending for herself in the evening until her mom returned home.

Pamela loved school and was a gifted student.  Pamela received degrees with Honors from both Merritt Community College and Mills College.   At age 30 Pamela was juggling a life of raising children as a single mom without child support, attending graduate school and maintaining a 3.5 grade average.

Later she worked at several high pressure jobs, teaching in the Community College full-time and working a part-time job with parents in recovery from substance abuse.   Managing motherhood and work was taking its toll on Pamela.  She began to feel extremely tired and her body felt heavy. She found herself recoiling, often spending weeks in bed.  She finally recognized that she needed help.  Her journey toward recovery was about to begin.

The road to wellness for mental health consumers is not always an easy, straight-forward path.  Pamela was no exception to the rule.  In Pamela’s case, she was hospitalized off and on for 8 years, tried taking her own life with pills and alcohol, and unsuccessfully sought out help and assistance from therapists. Pamela also received 12 unsuccessful electric shock treatments.  Pamela recounts that she was too depressed to ask them to please stop shocking her.  Because of the treatments Pamela describes her memory as a “bucket with a hole in it.”

It wasn't until Pamela was introduced to Caminar’s supported housing that her journey to healing, wellness, and a sense of self-respect and dignity began.  Released from the hospital and finding herself homeless, Pamela was admitted to Redwood House, Caminar’s crisis residential facility, a 30 day program offering round-the-clock structured therapeutic and rehabilitative support in a warm and inviting environment. Clients, like Pamela, receive personalized treatment plans and are provided the support they need to navigate through difficult times and rejoin the community. In Pamela’s case it kept her out of bed and interacting with people.

Pamela’s successful journey with Caminar began 17 years ago and she continues on the road to recovery through active participation in several of Caminar’s outpatient programs.  And Pamela’s love of school and teaching has returned.  She presently works as a part-time contractor for The Office of Diversity and Equity, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services at the San Mateo County Medical Center teaching a parenting course.  She also chairs the African American Community Initiative, supervises the Cultural Stipend Intern Program and is on the board for Voices of Recovery.  And thanks to Caminar, the holidays have arrived early for Pamela.  Through Caminar’s assistance, she just moved into an apartment building with an elevator which alleviates stress on her weakened knees.  In addition to providing assistance with her security deposit fees and a new dining set, Caminar will enable Pamela to sleep comfortably and well – Pamela has a new bed!