There are some days when Cindy Corona can’t believe her life.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Corona, 28, processes funds for nonprofits and first-generation college students from her bright office of at Community Foundation Jackson Hole.
When she’s off work she takes her 5-year-old Milan and 8-year-old Dominic to soccer practice and games. She hypes up her 10-year-old, Mia, for the pre-teen roller coaster of middle school. She draws with all her kids: the mountains and meadows she knows so well from growing up on Snake River Ranch.
Last weekend Corona finished moving her family out of her parents’ house into a home they refurbished with Habitat for Humanity.
But all this — the house, the job, the free time to draw and watch soccer — was never a given.
The youngest of seven, Corona watched her dad start work on the ranch every day at 7 a.m., get off at 5:30, then drive to his second job at Snow King, where he’d stay until 1 or 2 a.m. Her mom and sister founded their own cleaning company. Everyone in the family worked, she said. A lot.
When she graduated Jackson Hole High School, Corona was pregnant with her daughter, Mia, and college wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t know who to ask,” she said. “I just didn’t want to have my parents pay for something that I was going to fail at.”
So she started to working — teaching at Children’s Learning Center, then working the front desk at various hotels.
At first she loved getting out of her shell. But she also worked so many hours with guests who found a way to be angry on their ski vacation.
“You’re always the wrong person, and they’re always the right person,” she said.
She envisioned something better, but didn’t know what to do. So she enrolled in online courses at Central Wyoming College.
But then came the triple challenge of caring for Mia, working afternoons and studying without a classroom or a teacher. After a semester, she left.
It was a few years later on the bus to Teton Village, standing on sore, cold feet and pregnant with her third child, Milan, when something clicked.
“I can’t be working in the hospitality industry for the rest of my life,” Corona said. “I need to find something that I enjoy doing.”
Then, scrolling Facebook, she saw an ad that would change her life.
“I honestly thought it was spam,” she said. “Growing up, I never knew what a nonprofit was.”
It was an ad was for Climb Wyoming, a skills and job placement program for single mothers.
She sent a message just in case it was real. The next day Corona got a call from Christy Thomas, the Teton Area program director for Climb. They set up a time to fill out paperwork.
“I was very skeptical about it at all,” Corona said. But she was also desperate. “At that point I was like, I’m gonna do just anything to get out of my current job.”
During three months at Climb, Corona armed herself with Excel skills and conducted mock interviews.
On top of the resume padding needed for higher-paying, year-round desk jobs, Corona received therapy.
“That was something hard growing up,” Corona said. “I couldn’t really say my emotions to my parents because they were busy.”
Four years after graduating she still runs through mindfulness exercises while she’s driving to work, observing the sky and her surroundings, feeling the steering wheel beneath her hands.
Upon graduation from Climb, Corona was asked for the first time what kind of job she wanted.
She remembered thinking: “I just want to go to work. I need that money. I need to pay my bills, just anything.”
After her first interview, she didn’t hear back.
A firm believer that “everything happens for a reason,” she tried again.
Her next interview was for the Community Foundation, where, she said, there was a culture of understanding that she’d never felt before.
Corona now manages over 200 nonprofit applications for Old Bill’s Fun Run and about 200 scholarships for kids who can’t afford college — the scholarships she never knew existed when she was in school.
“That’s an awesome feeling that they’re actually putting effort into those students,” she said, “My experience was the complete opposite.”
Last month Corona got the key to her own home, which she bought and refurbished through Habitat for Humanity. It was her third time applying for the program.
This week she’s moving the final boxes from “the white house” where she grew up on Snake River Ranch, a three-bedroom house where her parents, her brother, his daughter, and her family of four all lived.
Asked if she feels proud, Corona immediately answers, “Yes.”
She knows her parents are proud of her too, from the way her dad pats her shoulder and encourages her, “échale ganas,” or, “give it your all.”