A Story of Grit and Hope

There are two words that Yanella Molinelli will never say.

“I never say ‘I can’t,” she says. “I say, I’ll try.”

Though her journey to being a United States citizen has been filled with as many ups-and-downs as a rollercoaster, Yanella continues to live out that attitude. She always tries and never quits.

Uruguay is Yanella’s home country, and she initially never thought of leaving it. Yanella and her husband, Israel, owned a local market for years in their hometown, but after a business deal went wrong they wondered if they could stay there.

“We were going to sell the store and a man said he would buy it, but then the money never came,” Yanella said.

The family’s worst fears were confirmed when their would-be buyer followed Israel home from work one night before threatening to kill him. Scared for their lives, Yanella and Israel decided to leave for a while with the hopes of returning once they would be safe. They chose to stay with a friend in Miami.

It quickly became apparent after their arrival in Miami that Yanella and her family were not going to be able to return home. They received no help from the police, and their lawyer was killed after they left.

Knowing they would be unable to return home, Yanella and Israel decided to stay in the United States. They couldn’t stay with their friend in Miami forever, however, and elected to move to Colorado to ensure their children got the best possible education.

It wasn’t easy. Yanella and Israel had no connections in Colorado. They knew little English, though their children spoke it at the time of the move. And since their lawyer had been killed, the family had almost no money from the eventual sale of the store to move with.

And through it was hard, Yanella refused to say “I can’t.”

Both Yanella and Israel found work in Colorado while their four kids graduated from school. They took whatever jobs would pay the rent and get their children through school. Their work has paid off. All four kids now have degrees and are working across the western United States.

Just over a year ago, Yanella and Israel moved to Spokane in search of work. Yanella enrolled in an employment program with World Relief Spokane that focuses on removing barriers to work and building skills.

As part of the program, a World Relief employment specialist helped place Yanella at a work-based-learning site where World Relief paid her to work for three months. The company loved her, but was not able to hire her because she did not have a GED. True to form, Yanella didn’t let that stop her and started classes to get her GED.

Soon after starting employment classes at World Relief, Yanella found out that she met the qualifications to become a United States citizen. She had been in the country for the required about of time and now speaks good English, another result of her hard work. Yanella was so excited about becoming a citizen that she chose to take World Relief’s citizenship class while also studying for her GED.

Yanella became a citizen in December and earned her GED a couple of months later. She will vote in her first American election this November.

“I am happy,” she said. “It was hard. I studied at night for my GED and for my citizenship. But now I am happy.”

Andrew Goodwin, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Assistant, wrote this story.