A helping hand includes a baby shower at the women's shelter

  • Desiré Barnas with her daughter Alessia Garcia, 11, June 17, 2011.

A baby shower? Desir?Barnas doesn't see herself as the sort of woman who'd be invited to such a mainstream social event, certainly not as the guest of honor.

Through most of her 40 years, Barnas has done without many of the connections and trappings of traditional American family life. At age 12 she went into foster care in Vallejo. For months now, she and her effervescent daughter, Alessia "Mimi" Garcia, who's nearly 12, have lived at a Santa Rosa homeless shelter.

A plain-talking and grateful woman, Barnas said a lifelong difficulty with reading and comprehension has limited her employment options — her best job was doing maintenance and repair work at a retirement complex in Orange County. Her learning disability also impairs her ability to understand how many aspects of increasingly computerized life work.

A case in point is the on-line baby-gift registry at Target that staffers at The Rose women's shelter established for her prior to the baby shower they put on for her Saturday at the shelter. "That's something that's a little bit over my head," Barnas said.

She accepts that she hasn't had and may not ever have the type of family and work and friends that many mothers have.

"I'll never be married," she said, without pity or regret. Contributing to the conclusion that she'll always be on her own have been occasions in which she trusted or relied on others and came to wish she hadn't.

By and large, her daughter is her family and, certainly, her greatest source of pride. Nearly a year ago, Barnas decided that since Alessia is such a good kid, she wanted to have a second.

Nodding toward Alessia, she said, "This is my biggest success."

Though Barnas has struggled all her life with the learning disability, her beaming strawberry-blonde daughter is a high-grades student, voracious reader and budding violinist. This particular day, Alessia carried with her a hefty Harry Potter book.

Her mom recalled that when Alessia was a toddler, "the only thing I could read to her were A-B-C books."

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