Posted by StreetWise in Vendor ProfilesIt would be an understatement to simply call Alexandria Banks a “people person.” Her positive attitude, strong work ethic and gregarious personality brighten and inspire all in her presence. But Alexandria did not always have this inviting demeanor. Getting laid off from her job and encountering homelessness, Alexandria turned to panhandling as a means of survival. This is when, according to Alexandria, StreetWise helped her turn her life around.
“Before StreetWise I was just unemployed, homeless – just going through a lot of trials and tribulations, and I didn’t know which way to go,” Alexandria said. “StreetWise has affected my life in so many tremendous ways. It’s given me a job, an opportunity to help myself through employment, [and] it’s helped raise my own self-esteem. It’s just been a total asset in my life.”
Now, nearly 20 years later, Alexandria has worked off and on with StreetWise as a vendor, and moved up to leadership roles, including joining the Quality Assurance Team (QAT). This title gives her the responsibility of monitoring the other vendors’ interactions with customers, and maintaining an environment of mutual respect within the community.
“It really makes me feel good because it makes me feel closer to the organization. Having this inside job is not a job that all vendors can do, and you have to be able to relate and communicate with the other vendors, as well as the staff,” Alexandria said.
Alexandria’s dedication and motivation don’t only impact her work as a vendor. She also devotes time volunteering with her church, traveling to visit family, and working on her own independent business. This includes doing housework, and other side construction jobs – often for customers she’s formed close ties with through her work as a vendor in Hyde Park.
In fact, construction has always been a passion for Alexandria. With plans to attend classes through Chicago Women and Trade, her studies were sadly cut short due to a hit-and-run car crash that broke her leg in two places and left her with permanent arthritis in her back and legs. This obstacle, along with the other struggles she encountered overcoming homelessness, have only made Alexandria more motivated to find success and enjoy the most valuable aspects of her life.
“Through being homeless you kind of distance yourself from everybody, so once I had started selling StreetWise I began to realize how important family is. And [I realized] that the next minute is not promised to any of us, I decided that it is time to keep closer contact with my family,” Alexandria said.
Work plays another important role in Alexandria’s life, as she continuously searches for new creative ways to support and build her involvement at StreetWise and among her customer base.
“All of the vendors, we all have our own special and unique qualities – we are all entrepreneurs,” Alexandria explained. “When I first started out I had my own system that I had invented. That was, once everybody in the area had their paper, I would go to a new area and sell because I felt that would circulate the paper more.”
These days, Alexandria keeps to the areas that she feels most at home in Hyde Park. That still doesn’t stop her from trekking out nearly everyday to ride her bike and explore the city. With a packed schedule, her bike ready to ride, and a smile on her face, Alexandria continues her journey as a beloved and valued leader in the community.
Written by Ann Wanserski,
StreetWise Editorial Intern