Belen Zarate came to Goodwill for her first job, her first opportunity to earn her own money, and to stand on her own.
Belen’s childhood was similar to most children. She was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Oakland at a very early age. She knows Oakland as her home, where her father worked in a restaurant while her mom took care of her and her four siblings.
One thing made her different—she was born deaf. This didn’t affect her home life and once she started high school, she attended C.E.I.D. high school in Berkeley, which worked with hard of hearing and deaf students.
As all Coast Guard Island workers do, she started working in the dish room. While she sees every challenge as an opportunity, when she first started at Coast Guard Island she was shy and did not communicate much with her coworkers or customers. As her confidence in her job and herself continued to grow her deafness stopped holding her back. She started teaching her supervisor, Eileen Phillips, her coworkers, and some of the customers simple signs for different foods and kitchen terms.
All the while, she continually asks for more work, more responsibility, and more training.
“I like working at Coast Guard Island. It means a lot be-cause it has given me the chance to be more independent and to learn new things,” says Belen.