Pay it 4ward: Owner thanks previous client for dedication to helping others

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In this week’s Pay it 4ward, KOB 4 received a nomination from a woman dedicated to helping those who need help the most. But she said it was her employee who really needed to be recognized.

“Tenderlove Community Center is actually the organization I started after I got out of homelessness myself,” said Debbie Johnson, founder & CEO of Tenderlove Community Center.

Johnson knows the struggles of homelessness, she experienced it herself not long after she moved to the United States in 2001.

“But I realized that not all homeless people are suffering from any kind of addiction. I never did, and yet I was homeless. Based on circumstances beyond my control,” said Johnson.

Since getting back on her feet, Johnson has dedicated herself to helping other women escape poverty. She started the non-profit Tenderlove Community Center in 2011. It started as a place to teach women how to make clothes – and then grew into a place that has job training, education, and even housing for those who need it.

That’s how she met this week’s Pay It 4ward nominee — Crystal Barreras. She came to Tenderlove in the Summer of 2020.

“She came as client. Like everybody, she was homeless after several years, I think 20 something years of drug addiction,” Johnson said.

With help from Tenderlove, Barreras got back on her feet and now works for Tenderlove. As a case worker — Johnson says Barreras goes above and beyond in helping others.

“Several times, she would use her own money to put people in hotels. She will pick up calls at two in the morning to go pickup somebody who got stranded somewhere,” said Johnson.

So Johnson called an employee meeting to surprise Barreras.

“I nominated somebody and of course they selected me, to receive 400 dollars where I’m going to Pay it 4Ward to the person that deserves the money. Because of the selfless character, because of the dedication, because of the love for others. The person is not any other person other than my Crystal. *cheers*

But the surprises didn’t end there — in addition to the $400, Barreras also received an award from her employers for her commitment to making a difference.

“Shocked, I love what I do, I really love what I do, and I love the people I work with and I love the people I help and I hope I get to do it for a very long time,” said Barreras.

But why does Barreras go the extra mile for others?

“Because somebody did it for me at one point, and I feel like anything that’s done for you, when you have more than what you need for today, you give it. You do it for somebody else. You never know where their life is heading or what situation they’re in and a little thing for you may be very much so life changing for them,” she said.

She said she plans to spend the $400 on car repairs, so she can keep coming to work, and making a difference for others.

“I feel like I’m blessed every day I go to work anyway. And it’s not really a job for me. It’s more like just living life. It’s something I like to do. I feel great, I appreciate you guys.”