Holding on to Hope


When Gano came to the United States in 2014 to live with her parents, she was 17 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. Her parents had moved from Ethiopia to Minnesota when she was four months old, leaving an aunt to raise Gano and her twin sister. After their aunt died in 2013, Gano and her sister were unsure of what would happen next. “My auntie had adopted us,” Gano says. “And my life in Ethiopia was really great until she died. But after my auntie passed away, it was stress[ful] and scary.”

For a short time after that, Gano and her sister stayed in Ethiopia, living with their father’s family. Gano would spend days at her brother’s coffee shop, watching him make delicate designs with steamed milk in the coffee. “All day I would see how he made the designs and wished I could do it too but he said I was too young and couldn’t touch the machine,” she remembers.

Within the year, her parents called and asked Gano and her sister to come to Minnesota to live with them and they agreed. The transition was challenging. Shortly after they arrived, they enrolled in a St. Paul high school—new to the culture and customs, without an understanding of the language. “I didn’t know English—clearly nothing,” she says. “I started learning in high school but I wasn’t improving enough.”

Gano continued to work hard at school but after a few years she was still struggling with English and did not graduate. Her father suggested she go to Neighborhood House, where he had taken English classes when he first arrived in the U.S. Determined to improve her English and earn her diploma, she took his advice and in 2017, enrolled in an English class as well as a computer class. Now, Gano expects to graduate high school in 2020.

While finishing high school and attending classes at Neighborhood House, Gano also entered the workforce. She found a job working at a retail clothing store. And while she was happy to have the income and work experience, when an opportunity to work at a coffee shop run by Neighborhood House arose, she eagerly took it.

That coffee shop is Beaningful, a Neighborhood House social enterprise that opened in 2018. Beaningful trains Neighborhood House participants in work skills and gives them real-world employment experience—and Cara, one of the Adult Education teachers, suggested Gano consider applying. “I was kind of scared because they [also] serve alcohol but Cara said I wouldn’t have to serve it,” she says. “So I thought, “O.K., let me try. I will get a new experience and I’ll be working in a coffee shop!’”

Gano resigned from the clothing store, where her responsibilities did not include direct customer interaction, and began work at Beaningful, where she is face-to-face with customers every day. “At the clothing store I just did one thing: I worked the job,” she says. “That was one step in my experience. But at Beaningful they do more for me. I get the opportunity to be in front of people and practice my English. It helps me communicate and not be shy.”

When the manager (Lisa) asked Gano to be responsible for closing the store one night, she was hesitant. “I didn’t think I wanted to do that because I never had,” Gano says. “But Lisa said, ‘You are strong. You can do it.’ So I did it.”

Gano says she’s grateful for each new experience Neighborhood House has offered her. And working at Beaningful is one more step in her journey to one day become a nurse. She plans to take more classes at Neighborhood House to prepare her for college. “I’ve dreamed of being a nurse but I didn’t think about how I was going to get there,” Gano says. “The people at Neighborhood House and Beaningful showed me how I’m going to get there. I owe them a lot.”

Gano shakes her head and smiles. “They helped me to not give my hope away.”