Janira Perez was just a teenager in 2000 when her boyfriend was dragged out of his car in a road rage incident and shot in the head, the bullet entering the back of his skull and exiting the side.
"It was a miracle. They didn't think he'd survive," said Janira. Her then boyfriend is now her husband and one of the reasons she is considering a career as an instructor at a community college, where she said her heart is drawn especially to minority adults in at-risk districts.
"A lot of them have to tackle so much that I would like to be able to encourage them and motivate them to keep going and pursuing (their dreams) regardless of the obstacles that come their way," she said.
Janira, who was the first in her family to attend college, is familiar with obstacles that nearly derailed her determination to pursue her dreams, which includes completing her master's degree and writing a book about leadership and faith.
Her husband, who was 19 and living in Massachusetts at the time he was shot, lost his peripheral vision and struggles with short-term memory.
"Since then it's been a journey and trying to finish school is a journey," she said on a recent visit to our Manchester store on Adams Street with her 13-year-old daughter, Lilliana. Lilliana had just graduated from eighth grade.
Janira and her husband sold their condo in Vernon in March and moved in with her parents in Manchester while they search for another home in the area.
Janira's father is Dominican; he was 20 when he moved to the United States. Her mother is from Puerto Rico; she didn't finish high school. The family lived in the Bronx and then moved to Connecticut when she was 5. After 11 years, they moved to Massachusetts before she and her husband eventually returned to Connecticut.
Her husband works in a safety shoe warehouse and is working on his associate's degree in occupational therapy.
Janira, who substitute teaches at Manchester, East Hartford and Hartford schools, believes her calling is to be a writer. "I know what God placed in my heart," she said of a book she has been working on for three years. "I'm writing my testimony."
Her lowest moment was 2014. A year earlier she had lost her grant-funded job as a support director at a child and family resource center at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic due to budget cuts. Her uncle was then murdered by a member of the church she attended. She pulled out of her position in the church ministry "to just to be in (God's) presence and to be quiet and to learn. It's about the condition of the heart." She faced foreclosure but was able to secure a short sale. And her brother, who also lives with her parents, was suffering from cancer and depression.
"It was loss, upon loss," she said. As Janira experienced a depth of sorrow she had never known, she said she is learning more about what it means to put her faith into practice.
"I've learned how to trust and learned how to let go," she said. "I felt like I had to have the answers and carry the weight of so many things. I learned it's okay to let things fall apart and learn the plans and designs of God and that He is putting things together."
Meanwhile, the beach is high on Lilliana's summer goals. And drawing.
"I like design," she said. "I like The Sims. I like to design houses. Design clothes. Draw cartoon figures. Anime and cartoon. I like urban culture."