Amanda Raposo’s whole face opens wide with shock when I suggest that she’s a brave woman.

But consider these: She joined the Army as a sure way to earn money and escape her marriage. She then risked prison by going AWOL when her ex threatened to keep their toddler son from her. She endured the death of a second husband. On her own, she’s moved to various parts of the country, finally to L.A., where her heart was drawn but with no support system.

She had worked in a bank and as a manager in a games shop, and her dream is to get her art out into the world. Living in a shelter was depressing, she says. And working on a farm didn't seem much better, she says. "I thought, 'Oh no. Not a farm. It's going to be chores. ... I wasn't enthusiastic.'"

But she took a leap of faith and became part of GrowGood's Temporary Employment Program late in 2018. 

Turns out it didn't take much to change her mind. "I saw butterflies, and thought, 'Oh, this is lovely. ... I'm not out there desilking corn all day."

Amanda showing off a hand dyed scarf she made using indigo grown at the farm.

Amanda showing off a hand dyed scarf she made using indigo grown at the farm.

She liked putting her hands in the dirt and the precision of planting one seed at a time. "I took the time to appreciate the wonder of nature in a way I didn't do as a kid," she says over a vanilla latte at a Huntington Park café. 

Amanda's smile was a fixture at GrowGood, and she could be counted on to note the "magic" of the farm. 

She’s always wanted to be an artist. “When I was a girl I told my mother, ‘I want to grow up and be an artist.’” But her mother responded by saying that would not be a lucrative path. “So like a good little girl, I took AP courses and planned for college.”

But Amanda’s path was not to be so smooth. She met and married at 19 a man with three little girls; then they had a son.

I couldn’t help but be wide-eyed at that. “I was raised very Christian,” Amanda explains. “Part of my motivation had been that these little kids didn’t have a mommy.”

The marriage had problems; Amanda learned the girls’ mother did want to be in their lives. And she started to feel trapped. Her way out was enlisting in the U.S. Army, and after boot camp she was sent to Fort Gordon in Georgia to computer repair school.

It was there that her world fell apart. At 4 a.m., when she was due to go on  a run with other soldiers, her husband showed up and said he was taking off with their son.

“It was horrifying,” she says now, at 48, decades after the moment. “I remember this day so clearly.”

She completed the run – falling behind, with an officer yelling, “Come on, soldier. Pick up your feet!” – and then went to the military police, where she was told there was not much to be done. But she knew what she had to do.

She went AWOL and returned to Michigan, reuniting with her husband so she wouldn’t be without her son.  She soon turned herself in, and was lucky enough to get a general discharge -- and avoid a court martial. Her son, still in the Midwest, has a 1-year-old and is expecting a second child.

She eventually married again: "I loved him very much. He was my best friend," she says, her voice breaking a bit as she reveals that he died.

Amanda then moved to New Mexico, where her mother was living. And eventually to California. "My heart was always pulling me to California," she says. The VA sent her to the Bell Shelter, where she lived until the fall of 2019, when she moved to a house with her own room. She's looking for a job, exploring Los Angeles and working at her art.  “My favorite sort of art is 3-D illustration. I use various programs for that,” she says. She’s self-taught, has used programs like PhotoShop for years. The goal is a YouTube channel "that will show people the beautiful world." 

She has a clever stop-motion intro already done that will make anyone smile.

Kind of like Amanda herself.

By Mary MacVean