Tanisha Saunders turns her life around by getting involved

Tanisha Saunders has become a student leader during her time at Pierce, overcoming her struggles as an adolescent.

As a child, Saunders faced both physical and verbal abuse at home. She felt as though she internalized a lot. However, that changed in high school when she finally spoke up about the abuse. With hopes of bettering her relationship with her family, her plan quickly failed. She was placed into foster care. There, her life completely changed.

“When I was placed into foster care, my whole life changed,” Saunders said. “I felt lost. I felt like I wasn’t heard. I felt like I was being punished, being taken away from everything I knew.”

After high school, she attended CSUN where she thought school was not for her and eventually quit. Shortly after, she moved back with her family in Compton where she was put in a whole different dynamic. There, she began to lose hope.

“I just felt hopeless and I just think that’s the worst thing in the world, to feel hopeless. You can be homeless, you can be carless, you can be jobless, but to feel hopeless is just the end all to be all,” Saunders said.

Facing many struggles as an adolescent, her story became noteworthy.

“I’m a child developmentalist and what she was going through is not A typical for people of her age,” child development professor Lila Snow said.

After hearing her story and learning the struggle Saunders was facing to find basic resources in Compton, Saunders’ best friend’s mother, Katherine Knorr, took Saunders in.

Knorr opened the doors to her home for Saunders and asked her what it was that she wanted to do. Saunders, who had never had anyone ask her what she wanted before, began to restore her faith.

“To have somebody in your life who’s not obligated to be there but they’re there, it just does something to you. I could never repay her enough, I could never thank her enough,” Saunders said.

After moving in with Knorr in her Simi Valley home, she signed up for classes at Moorpark College. During her lone semester there, she thought school was not for her and did not return the following semester.

She spent all her time working multiple jobs at the Northridge Mall.

After years at a clothing store, she signed up for a promotion, which she did not get. She began to wonder why she was not getting paid more than minimum wage after working hard for so long. However, when she spoke to her manager about it, they tried to meddle into her personal life rather than speaking of her work in the store.

She quit her job and began working as a live-in nanny for a family with newborn twins. It was then that she fell in love with children and decided that was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Saunders believes she had never felt so needed before working with children.

“You only have to take care of their basics. Feed them, clothe them, change them and everything from there is just love,” Saunders said. “It fed my soul.”

Saunders also believes her struggles with her family as a child fueled her passion for caring for children.

“I know what it looks like not to have that [love]. A part of me feels like children are so innocent and they come into this world innocent. They deserve that basic foundation. They deserve love, they deserve these things straight off the top and, as adults, we stop giving that to each other and we stop loving on each other. There’s these situation created where I don’t feel like my family had that love. My family didn’t understand that so they weren’t able to give that to me. I don’t harbor any negative feelings on them but it wasn’t until I became a nanny that I really opened my eyes, opened my heart because my heart had been so closed off,” Saunders said.

After two years of caring for the children, they began to attend a Headstart educational program and Saunders began to find herself losing her hours and looking for a new job.

During her job search, she had an interview at a spacious three-story home in Woodland Hills. However, during the interview, she realized the job would be very different than her previous one. Instead of working with a loving family, she would simply be “the help” and would work several hours at a time with no set off days. It was at that moment that Saunders realized she needed to return to school.

The day after the interview, she signed up for classes at Pierce to begin her schooling as a child development major.

Initially, her goal at Pierce was to get in and get out. However, that changed when she took her English 101 class with professor Kraemer.

Unaware of what Town Hall was, she added the class. The first day of instruction, she realized she was in the wrong class. She did not want to participate in the event considering she did not like politics. Once she realized how difficult adding a new english class would be, she stayed.

It was not until the Town Hall event that she began to think of societal issues. She began to realize that she has a voice and she can use it.

Shortly after, she wrote an essay in an attempt to win scholarship money. In her essay, she wrote that if she won the money, she would be able to work less and become more active around campus by volunteering her time. Although she did not receive the scholarship, her words stuck with her.

Saunders then became involved with the Associated Students Organization (ASO), which sparked her involvement throughout the whole campus.

It was then that she realized how fulfilling volunteering was. She began spending more time volunteering than working because she believes that you can chase after money but you will never be satisfied. By volunteering, she feels the rewards are endless.

She also believes that she must pay it forward and help others since she has received large amounts of help herself.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for people believing in me and taking a chance on me so I feel that I owe it to myself to give that back to people because that was given to me,” Saunders said.

Slowly, she began working her way up and partnering with several departments to make events happen and increase diversity. Various staff members have taken notice.

“You go to any department on this campus and they feel like Tanisha is a part of their department,” child development professor Stacey Longmore said.

“She’s now a leader on campus,” political science professor and Town Hall coordinator Denise Robb said.

Although she has had faced multiple struggles, Saunders believes it has helped shape her into who she is today.

“My struggles are really the foundation of who I am today. So I kind of can’t denounce them and be like ‘man, I wish this never happened’ because in some shape, way or form, it happened for a reason and it’s made me who I am today,” Saunders said.