Steffanie Kramer wants to make life better for foster kids

Steffanie Kramer
Steffanie Kramer before her appearance on NBC’s Today – and days before her loving foster family adopted her. (Courtesy of Steffanie Kramer)

Related video: Watch KCRA 3 report on Steffanie Kramer

Steffanie Kramer’s life has been a Cinderella story, complete with wicked foster parents (a foster mom forced her to clean floors on her hands and knees, and banished her to the garage, where she slept on sofa cushions for weeks, as punishment for having “an attitude”) – and a fairy tale ending.

She finally found her “forever family,” Ellen and Bob Kramer and their brood, in 2011. The couple adopted her four years later, just before she turned 23.

She will graduate from Sacramento State on May 21 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Dean Fred Baldini chose her from among 1,268 eligible graduates from the College of Health and Human Services to deliver the Commencement address.

She was a finalist for this year’s Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Graduates, and her outstanding academic achievements have consistently landed her on the Dean’s Honor List.

“Steffanie is an exceptional student. Her courage and tenacity exhibit all that is good at Sac State,” says President Robert S. Nelsen.

Kramer plans to attend graduate school at Sac State and earn a master’s in social work (MSW). And then she wants to change the world for foster kids.

“I hope that other kids in the system can find one person in their life who can help them strip away the labels and find who they are,” she says. “The child who is being mistreated is going to grow up to be an adult, and I just hope they’re able to know that they are loved, wanted, chosen, and that they’re good people.”

Kramer, who grew up as Steffanie Eisenga, went into the foster care system at age 9, along with her older brother and three younger siblings. Their mother was a drug addict who lost her children when Child Protective Services learned that she was using drugs while pregnant.

Separated from her brothers and sisters, Kramer was shuffled from foster home to foster home and lived a nightmare with one family for five years before being placed with the Kramers, she says.

“I’ve gone from being alone and separated from my siblings to going through sexual abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse, to joining a family of 12,” she says. “The love is what changed my life. I will never be the same. I know I am loved, and I have a family now.”

She has reconnected with her birth mother, who is clean and working, and she has a relationship with her younger siblings. She was the sixth foster child adopted by the Kramers, who also have four biological children. The Kramer offspring range in age from 4 to 29, along with a growing number of nieces and nephews.

While at Sac State, Kramer has been active in Guardian Scholars, a support group for students who are former foster youth or homeless, and in the New Student Orientation program.

“She worked for me for four summers and was the student coordinator, the highest position you can have. She was wonderful,” says Mary Shepherd, assistant director of Academic Advising and coordinator of New Student Orientation. “I know that she’ll go out and do amazing things when she’s done with her education.”

Last December, shortly before her adoption was finalized, Kramer and other former foster youth were invited by Today host Natalie Morales to talk on national television about their experiences growing up in the foster care system. They also made a public service announcement for Children’s Rights, a national organization that advocates for abused and neglected kids.

“I hope every foster kid gets the opportunity to finally see their real selves in the mirror and say, ‘I’m good. I’m loved. I’m able.’ That’s my hope,” Kramer says. “When I get to the place that I get married and have a family of my own, I will be adopting and fostering children, and doing the hard work so many people don’t want to do and that these children deserve.”

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Green Machine: Sustainable development leader helps farmworker and low-income families find a place to call home

Vanessa Guerra
As a project manager for Mutual Housing California, Vanessa Guerra is behind some of the region’s most groundbreaking “green” housing developments. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Vanessa Guerra knows what it’s like to grow up in a dusty small town where a working bathtub is a luxury, where neighbors move in and out with the seasons, and where utility bills pile up on cash-strapped families like tumbleweeds along California Route 16.

That made it all the more meaningful to her when, in 2015, more than 60 Woodland families moved into a development project that she managed: Mutual Housing at Spring Lake, the first zero-net energy, multifamily development in the nation for migrant farmworkers.

The landmark project established a new standard for “green” construction projects aimed at driving down energy costs for low-income families throughout the region.

“Most of these families that work in farm labor, they’re working in harsh conditions,” says Guerra, a project manager for Mutual Housing California. “So to be able to come into a home that’s healthy, that provides clean air quality, that is built with materials that are not putting out volatile organic compounds … it’s even more of a benefit.”

Since graduating from Sacramento State in 2008 with a bachelor’s in engineering-construction management, Guerra has leveraged her education and personal experiences into some of the region’s most groundbreaking projects, where affordable housing and green construction go hand in hand.

When Mutual Housing at Spring Lake opened, it made headlines because it provided permanent housing for migrant families who otherwise would be forced to move during certain seasons. But it also was a springboard for future sustainable development projects that feature an integrated solar voltaic panel system, LED lighting, electric heat pumps, and additional features that all but eliminate energy costs for residents, driving down the cost of living for families for whom every dollar counts.

“That’s a big deal as to why we’re doing this,” Guerra says, “because in the end, they’re the ones who are able to save money by having these low utility bills.”

Aerial view of Mutual Housing at Spring Lake
Mutual Housing at Spring Lake is the first zero-net energy rental housing development in the nation. (Mutual Housing California/Josh Sunseri)

Over the past year, Guerra parlayed her success into a number of similar projects: She headed an affordable housing development in South Sacramento, major rehabilitation projects in Foothill Farms and Stockton, and Phase 2 of Mutual Housing at Spring Lake, where her team is adding 40 units on the remaining parcel so that more than 100 farmworker families can have a permanent home. Guerra also serves on the board of the California Coalition for Rural Housing.

Mutual Housing at Spring Lake is the first zero-net energy rental housing development in the nation. The project is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified and ENERGY STAR-certified, and was the winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Housing Innovation Award.

Guerra grew up in Esparto, Calif., just 17 miles down the road from where Mutual Housing at Spring Lake stands today. Her brother is Eric Guerra, who serves as District 6 City Council member in Sacramento.

“The fact that I was able to serve a population that I came from … it’s just a huge success for me personally,” Guerra says. “It’s a huge achievement for me because I knew the struggles that those residents were going through; I knew what it was like to grow up in substandard housing.”

Like nearly all their neighbors, Guerra’s family worked in the fields. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Sacramento State, initially as a biology major. She quickly found her way into civil engineering when modern development’s “green revolution” was in full effect.

“Some of my colleagues were already pursuing accreditations through the LEED program, and so it was something new to us, but we saw that there was a future in that.”

Ultimately she decided that she wanted to work for a developer and focus on providing affordable housing for low-income families. As a senior, she interned with Mutual Housing California, which hired her as a project manager immediately after graduation.

“The fact that I learned all of this construction and project management background through my degree really gave me a leg up in development,” she says.

And thanks to Guerra, more Central Valley families have a place to call home.

Yet another Hornet joins defending Super Bowl champs

Lars Hanson celebrates homecoming win
Lars Hanson (76) played four seasons with Sacramento State, earning honorable mention All-Big Sky honors at left tackle in 2015. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

With their latest signing, the Denver Broncos’ locker room is starting to feel more and more like Broad Fieldhouse East.

This week, former Sacramento State offensive tackle Lars Hanson inked a free agent deal with the defending Super Bowl champions. He joins linebacker Todd Davis, quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, and offensive line coach Clancy Barone among the ranks of mile-high Hornets.

Hanson played four seasons with Sacramento State, starting his last 39 consecutive games at the most important position on the offensive line, left tackle, aka the “blind side.” In 2014, he presided over an offense that set single-season school records in total yards (5,780) and points (458). In 2015, the 6-foot-8, 305-pound captain was an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection.

Signing with Denver, fresh off a 2016 Super Bowl championship victory over the Carolina Panthers, is a dream come true for Hanson: Despite hailing from Southern California, he grew up a lifelong Broncos fan.

Now, he’ll have the chance to toe the line for the team he loves alongside a whole host of familiar faces.