I was born in the seaside town of Ventura, California, to a young, newly married couple. My mother, Eilene, is the daughter of Wayne and Erlene Reed. My Father, Alberto, was a recent Mexican immigrant, who came to the United States to seek a better life. The two fell in love and quickly started a family. I was born first, then was joined by my sister Mariaelena, “Mari,” and shortly thereafter, Angelina, “Angel,” arrived. The three of us were lovingly nicknamed, “the girls” by family members. We brought a lot of love, but also a lot of challenges to the young couple. When domestic violence and alcoholism tragically entered our lives, my mother made a difficult decision. She ended the marriage and moved our family to Reno, where my Grandparents lived, knowing life in Nevada would be best for us.
Life was better in the Silver State. My mother moved our family into my grandparent’s home, and my grandparents took up equal responsibility in raising myself and my sisters. I loved living with them. They brought a strong respect for tradition and discipline, ensuring we were in church on Sunday mornings, members of the children’s choir, and enrolled into Vacation Bible School (VBS) every summer.
My Grandparents worked hard to provide a stable life for us. While there was no shortage of love in our home, economics were hard. My Grandparents came out of retirement, working janitorial and childcare jobs to make ends meet. My mother worked long hours in the service industry as a waitress in local casinos and eateries. Many times, we would visit my mom at work. I was amazed by my mother’s demeanor; calm and composed, despite constant surrounding chaos. It is a lesson I have never forgotten, and it is a constant reminder of the importance of staying focused on a job at hand, even when tossed around by stormy seas. While my biological father didn’t play a role in my upbringing, I never felt at a loss. In fact, I often state I was lucky to have been raised by three parents.
My sisters and I attended Mamie Towles Elementary School, located just blocks from my childhood home in the Kings Row area of Northwest Reno. I then went on to Clayton Middle School. During my eighth grade year, I enrolled in an elective Speech and Debate course, and thrived in the class. It proved to be a turning point for me, as I had otherwise been ambivalent about academics. I enjoyed the experience so much that I enrolled into an elective Speech and Debate course as a high school freshman. I remained a competitive debater throughout my high school career, capturing the Nevada Forensic Association’s “First Place Standard Debate” title in 1995 with my debate partner Adam Cates. I was also active in Junior Achievement’s Company Program.
I was surprised to learn how much I enjoyed the intense studying and research required by my debate hobby, and it underscored my desire to go on to college. However, when I mentioned my educational goal to my mother, she stated, “Good, but college costs money honey…lots of money.” If there was one thing we were short on, it was money. At the time, no woman my immediate or extended family had graduated from college. Many had tried, but life had thrown curve balls. At the time, my grandfather was the only person to hold a degree: A Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Ministries from Los Angeles Baptist College, now called the Masters College.
There was also another factor. My sister Mari had an unplanned pregnancy at age 14. While discouraged at first, my family rallied around my sister to ensure that she completed high school. I felt it would have been a tragedy for my sister to drop out of school. Mari had become a teenage mother, but the family was determined not to let her become a drop out too. Once again, the family collectively pooled our resources. Grandma babysat. I got an after school job. Mom picked up extra shifts. The family encountered road blocks surrounding Mari’s experience. It led my mother and me to join a newly formed group of low-income, single mothers, fighting to break the cycle of poverty. The group would evolve into Nevada Empowered Women’s Project (New Project), a legal non-profit organization whose mission was to further the rights of women and children living in or near poverty. I served as President for many years, and was honored by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in 2006 for my work with NEW Project.
Being involved in NEW Project brought about an interesting byproduct; becoming Miss Nevada. It certainly didn’t happen overnight! In my quest to finance a college degree, a friend of mine introduced me to the world’s largest source of scholarship dollars for young women in the world, the Miss America Organization. The program is based in education and community service, which was a natural fit for me. My friend was impressed with my commitment to NEW Project, as were the judges. I accumulated more than $55,000 in scholarship dollars during my 5 year involvement. I also earned scholarships from the Nevada’s Women Fund. Between the two, I was able to finance my undergraduate degree and graduated debt free. I was also able to pay for my Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan.
I left Ann Arbor energized and determined to put my school’s motto into action: Reach Out; Raise Hope. I returned to Reno and landed in the field of Child Welfare. I worked as an adoption social worker, and was moved by the children and families I met. One of my favorite job responsibilities was hosting a television show featuring children in foster care who needed loving adoptive homes. I thought my job was to change their lives, but in all actuality, they changed mine. I truly treasure those years. I now work as a Hospice social worker. The work is challenging, but very rewarding.
These days, my husband Jeff Thompson and I reside in Old Southwest Reno, with our two children Lillian and Elijah (Lily and Eli). Our children have become the centerpiece of our lives.My husband is a meteorologist and a climatologist with a ten-year career in television. He currently serves the Silver State as Assistant Nevada State Climatologist, and is completing a master’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nevada. Today my sister Mari is a homemaker with two children. She not only graduated from high school, but graduated with a 3.5 GPA. My sister Angel is a dancer in the Tony nominated Broadway musical Rock of Ages, and my mother’s life has come full circle. She now works with victims of domestic violence.
Throughout the years, I have met amazing people. My life has been shaped by family, mentors, community support, determination, and a little bit of luck. All of these elements have served me well, and I hope to carry them with me to the Nevada State Legislature, proudly representing Assembly District 27.