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Jefferson Awards: East Bay Woman Helps Homeless Find Work

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Yvonne Nair - Jefferson Award Winner. (CBS)

Yvonne Nair – Jefferson Award Winner. (CBS)

RICHMOND (CBS 5) — An East Bay woman met the sad eyes of a homeless man just before he passed out on the street drinking. After that defining moment, she formed her own nonprofit to help Richmond’s homeless get back on their feet.

From a small office in Point Richmond, Yvonne Nair makes big things happen.

“I do understand what it’s like to be broken inside, to put (on) a brave front,” she said soberly.

Nair is CEO of Saffron Strand, a nonprofit she founded in her kitchen in 2008, using her retirement money. The goal was to help the homeless find jobs they love.

She herself was once homeless. At age 17, she left her parents in Malaysia, and scraped by doing odd jobs.

“You feel beat down,” Nair remembered. “It takes a special person to say ‘I think you can do this’ and have faith in you.”

Today, Nair is using her business and psychology training to guide Saffron Strand members like Jo Ann Geran. The single mother quit her police dispatcher’s job four years ago to spend more time with her young twin girls, then discovered she could not find another.

“I never imagined being in a situation like this, but I am,” Geran said tearfully. “Saffron Strand has made me feel like I’m important enough. They really care.”

In the last four years, about 200 people have come through Saffron Strand’s program. According to Nair, half of them have gotten jobs.

Saffron Strand members gain work experience volunteering to plan the nonprofit’s events. They also organize the Saffron Strand’s annual conference on homelessness, and vigils to remember those who live on the street. The nonprofit’s members gain valuable skills in budgeting, management, public speaking, and marketing.

Saffron Strand helped Andrew Wilson with interview skills, clothes, and dental work. Two years after completing the program, he is a supervisor at a private security company.

When CBS 5 asked him how much the program and Nair meant to him, he responded with an exclamation: “How do you measure it? It’s family!”

Geran says Nair inspires confidence and courage.

“When I envision Yvonne, I see her with angel wings. She’s very compassionate, she’s not judgmental.”

But Nair gets emotional when members get hired.

“I cry. I cry because I’m so happy to see it’s not just a job. They’re very stable inside,” she explained.

So for training homeless people for jobs they love, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Yvonne Nair.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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