Starting a job at Intel 23 years ago not only introduced Margaret Verdugo to the joys of volunteering, but also led the south Chandler woman to a new love – a girl who would eventually call her mother.
Verdugo, 52, already had two biological sons when she started work as a systems analyst for the technology giant. As her career took off, so did her family life.
“Intel introduced me to volunteerism,” Verdugo said. “I never volunteered before Intel. Intel has a program of volunteerism and they really love for their employees to go out and become part of the community.”
The divorced mother of sons Ross, of Gilbert, 31; and Marcus, of Chandler, 30; and grandmother of a one-year-old boy, heard an advertisement on the radio about the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Maricopa County and later a coworker mentioned the program.
“I was always trying to find my niche, what I could do that I would feel good about and working with children I knew were in situations they didn’t choose necessarily... when I heard you could actually be the voice of these children in the court, everything about it appealed to me,” Verdugo said.
She said CASA volunteers represent foster children in court proceedings and dealings with schools, counselors, doctors and others as well as meet with the child on a regular basis.
Verdugo began meeting with Shayliana, who goes by the name Shay, about four years ago when she was 10. Reading about her background, Verdugo knew right away Shay was the child she wanted to help.
“I wanted to get with her pretty quickly,” she said. “She had been non-verbal for a couple months so I knew she was going through a lot.”
Verdugo, now a senior administrative assistant who supports planning and logistics for a manufacturing division at Intel, did not want to elaborate on the type of abuse and neglect Shayliana had experienced.
But she said she had experienced some similar things to what Shay had gone through. Shay was already in her third foster care placement when she and Verdugo met.
Shayliana was in a group home for teen mothers and pregnant teens, but she was not pregnant and Verdugo did not believe that was the best place for her to live.
Verdugo strongly suggested Shay be placed in a home with children closer to her age, and the next group home Shay was moved to housed girls ages 7 to 13. There, Shay was “much happier there and it worked out better,” Verdugo said.
“The first meeting I had with Shayliana she was nonverbal and she hadn’t talked for a couple months,” Verdugo said. “I knew I was walking into this and explaining to her who I was. I just told her I was going to be with her for as long as she was in the system.
“I knew it could last a long period of time until she was placed successfully with a long-term home that was going to be good for her and strengthen her and basically a loving, forever family.”
She also told Shay that out of all the children in the foster care system, she had chosen Shay. Recalling Shay’s response to her made Verdugo choke up.
“She said, ‘nobody’s ever chosen me before,’” Verdugo said. “In that moment I knew I was locked in for life. I always thought that I would still be taking the CASA role.”
She said it is rare for children in the Arizona Department of Child Safety system who are 10 or older to get adopted.
The goal is for them to be reunited with their biological families, but Verdugo said Shay “started having a lot of issues within the struggle of her mom.”
“One night she asked me why she couldn’t go home with me,” Verdugo said.
Other people asked Verdugo the same question, including Verdugo’s sister.
“I was spending 14 to 16 hours a week with her,” Verdugo said.
“I started to think about it, talked to her DCS (Department of Child Safety) case manager,” she said.
Verdugo decided to apply to become Shay’s foster mother, but knew it was risky because she might not get approved and disappoint Shay.
But Shay told her she wanted her to take a chance in the hopes Verdugo would become her foster mom. Three weeks later, Shay got placed to live with Verdugo as her foster child and then Verdugo adopted her just before she turned 13.
“Shayliana and I had the conversation about long-term and what that looked like for us,” Verdugo said. “Adoption was what we both wanted. She asked me if I would adopt her and I immediately agreed. I wanted her to feel comfortable and want everything.”
When Shay started living with Verdugo, she started calling her by her nickname, “Marti,” and after she adopted Shay, she wanted to call her a new name.
“When I adopted her, about a month later, she said, ‘I want to call you Mom,’” Verdugo said. “She has a mom and I always knew that and I’ve always told her, ‘I know your mom; I’ve met her. You’re always gonna have that mom.’”
Verdugo was touched.
“It’s amazing,” Verdugo said. “It’s beautiful. Through the volunteerism, through Intel, evolving to the fostering, the adopting and then having Shay, it’s something that I’m just so thankful for.”
She said it is “not easy to foster children that have been harmed in many ways” in their previous homes.
Verdugo said Intel allowed her to take bonding leave to spend time with Shay.
Eligible Intel employees may take up to eight weeks of job-protected leave to bond with a child after a birth, adoption or a child being placed with them through foster care, said Julie Ann Overcash, vice president of human resources and director of compensation and benefits at Intel.
Verdugo took four weeks off and then took four weeks off at a later time to forge even stronger ties with Shay.
“I got to put aside work and really focus on our relationship,” she said. “We went to Disneyland. I honestly love working for Intel. Intel’s a huge part of the Chandler community. Being an employee here is the biggest blessing of my life. I’m able to give her insurance. She has braces.”
Verdugo, who works at Intel’s Ocotillo office, also can work flexible hours to spend time with Shay and was able to do so when her sons were children.
She works from home when she needs to and has flexibility with her hours on early release days at Shay’s school.
“Intel cares about all of Intel’s growing families,” Overcash said. “As part of our commitment to supporting a diverse workforce and inclusive work environment, we’ve ensured parental benefits are available to all types of families, regardless of how they are formed.
“Our family support begins pre-birth and extends well beyond with benefits such as bonding leave and education support for school age and college students. Benefits are accessible to all employees, regardless of gender or sexual reference, and for life events spanning fostering, adoption and birth.”
Intel believes it is important for its employees to keep a healthy work-life balance.
“In addition to parental bonding, Intel offers a number of benefits related to retaining employee work-life effectiveness, including paid sabbaticals, free campus gyms, tuition assistance, telecommuting options, and many others,” Overcash said.
Shay, now 14 and an eighth-grader, has progressed in her life, going from being non-verbal to talkative.
“She’s involved in so many different things,” Verdugo said. “She’s a softball player, a volleyball player. She loves to hang out with her friends and shop. She’s just a normal teenage girl. She’s already talking about her first car.
“We do a lot of things together. We do bike riding, we go to the gym, we travel. She’s half Puerto Rican. We’re going to Puerto Rico when she turns 16. She’s doing really fantastic. We’ve set a lot of goals.”
Verdugo said her sons are happy to have a sister.
“At first they were like, ‘Mom, what are you doing?’” she said. “When she came into foster with me, they were like, ‘We totally get it’ and they fell immediately in love with her.”
One of her sons told her that Shay “100 percent belongs in our family.”
Shay even looks like her sons and fit in when they posed for a recent Christmas photo.
Coincidentally, July 18 of last year was Intel’s 50th anniversary and also the one-year anniversary of when Verdugo officially adopted Shay.
“I’m really thankful,” Verdugo said. “I’m really humbled and thankful for this whole, entire experience. I’m thankful for Intel. I’m thankful for them providing for my family.”