The backdrop of the photo is a brick wall with a darker shadow to the left of the frame. A woman with dark curly hair tied back, colorful earrings, a yellow and white striped shirt & wearing overalls stands in the center of the frame. This is a traditional headsho.
Malena, Sister Nora’s Place Director

Sister Nora’s Place has a new Program Director, Malena McFarland! Malena is new in her role as a Director but she has been a part of the Loaves & Fishes campus community for nearly 5 years. Here, she shares her a bit of her story, the glimmers found at Sister Nora’s and her hopes for the future of the program.

Tell us about yourself, what you did before you joined the Loaves campus community?

Prior to my life at Loaves I worked in hospitality—bartending, catering, as a personal chef assistant and I also worked at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op for over a decade ending my career there as a beer, wine, and cheese specialist. I went to school on and off for years before I finally committed to a major in Sociology which really drove my desire to complete and finally receive my BA, graduating with honors. My emphasis was on social inequalities, race, and food insecurity. Just before finding my way to Loaves I was finishing up my service as a Refugee Resettlement Intern—assisting caseworkers in enrolling refugee clients in social service programs. Picking up newly arrived families from the airport, accompanying them to appointments, and ensuring new arrivals had food, shelter, and clothing—helping them to gain self-sufficiency.   

What brought you to Loaves & what keeps you here?

I was looking for work outside of what I had done for years and I was lucky enough to have met my new neighbor and friend Shannon who steered me toward the opening in Development. Thanks Shannon! I have been with Loaves and Fishes coming up on 5 years now, most of which has been with Maryhouse providing direct services.

I actually left Maryhouse for about 6 months after being recruited to serve as Program Coordinator for Transform Health to launch a Medicaid program but inevitably I returned. Coming back was an easy decision and what keeps me here is the culture of this campus. Loaves is a very unique place to work due to the commitment and integrity of the leadership, my co-workers, and the volunteers who surround and support me and the people we serve. The amount of compassion and resilience I witness really does make it easy to come to work every day.

What is the one thing you wish people knew about Loaves & Fishes?

One thing that really stands out to me is that Loaves does not accept government funding which at the core allows us to provide and keep services barrier free for our guests. It is incredibly impressive that this entire campus with 16 programs including a school, hot meals, mental health and legal services, just to name a few, runs on individual donations from our community. That’s amazing, thank you community!  

What is different about your time at Maryhouse vs your time at Sister Nora’s Place?

Maryhouse and Sister Nora’s are separated merely by a single door and while both serve women they are truly unique programs. Maryhouse is best described as a place of respite. It is vibrant, loud, fast paced, and full of energy. Lots of crisis and de-escalation throughout the day as well as connection and resolution. Sister Nora’s Place is residential and the only overnight program on campus. This program is best described as “home.” It is calm, intentional, a place of stability, growth, and presence. 

What do you hope to amplify in your time at Sister Nora’s Place?

I want to amplify the growth of each woman. At face value Sister Nora’s provides shelter and meets everyone’s basic human needs but this program offers so much more than that. Once there is safety and stability, opportunities for growth can begin. I am really impressed by these women—what they have been through, what they have accomplished so far, and how much more they are capable of. They each have unique drives, motivation, and capabilities.  Circumstances led them here and I am humbled for the opportunity to be part of their journey and their growth.

Are there any stories from the ladies at Sister Nora’s Place that you want to share?

I am fascinated by the stories of the women here! The ladies are as varied in their personalities as they are in their backgrounds. One resident speaks three different languages and has her Master’s in Accounting, another with a degree in Biochemistry, and another spent 17 years outside before finding her way inside at Sister Nora’s. There is no single “type” of woman that utilizes a program like this and so many different skills abound among them—gardening, knitting, cooking, caretaking… The women here are insightful, articulate, creative, and supportive of each other. Sister Nora’s is more than just their home—it is their support system and their community. Yes, they have experienced homelessness as well as trauma. That is what is common among the residents but that is just one facet of their life stories. I am incredibly impressed by their vulnerability, strength, and perseverance.

Is there anything you want to add about yourself or about how you feel in your new role?

All I can say is that with time and experience, I look forward to finding my leadership style in my new role as Director. I am excited to learn so much more about and from the women who come in and out of this program. I am just getting started. 

Sister Nora’s Place provides long term overnight shelter and case management for up to sixteen women who have experienced chronic homelessness, trauma and serious mental and physical health impacts.

You can support Sister Nora’s Place by signing up for dinner delivery, call us at 916-669-7000 or by making a donation here.

Leave a Comment