Briana Winkler

Story by Melissa McMorran and Ryan Canaday


Looking through a shoebox wrapped in paper, scribbled with song lyrics from her favorite songs as a teen, Briana Winkler, 22, says this box is the one thing she would save if there were a fire. The box contains photographs of family and friends, cards, love notes and little ornate figurines of elephants, her favorite animal.

Bri is wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants; her long, brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She’s wearing comfy clothes because she spent all day moving into her boyfriend’s home with three other roommates. At this moment in her life, Bri is where she wants to be: working at a grocery store, playing Scrabble with the elderly and living close to her family.

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Bri collects figurines of her favorite animal: elephants.

“When I was a kid I wanted to, it’s funny, I actually wanted to work at Raley’s and I also wanted to be a singer,” Bri says. “Then I decided I wanted to be an editor; to be an editor for a publishing company would be (my) dream job.”

Bri, who grew up mostly in Sacramento, currently works two jobs. The first is as a salesclerk at the Keystone Raley’s only a few doors down from her new house. The other is as a caregiver for a company that provides in-home senior care. Between the two jobs, she clocks in about 40 hours per week. Working that much, Bri hardly has time to go to college.

“I started college in Sacramento and I didn’t even finish the semester before I moved to Reno. And then I just haven’t started again since moving (to Reno),” Bri says. “It’s really intimidating.”

Bri lives in 89503, the same zip code that is home to the University of Nevada, Reno. In this zip code, there is a 29 percent college graduation rate but Bri has yet to start the path to being in that number.

Although Bri says she would like to complete college within the next five years, she has a number of obstacles to face before attaining that goal.

Bri wanted to drop out of high school, but her mother told her that was not an option. “Then I wanted to get my GED and (my mom) wouldn’t let me do that, she wanted me to have a diploma so I had to stick out my junior year.”

“I’m really glad I didn’t drop out, that would have been a bad thing,” Bri says.

Bri says she has always been close to her mom, and at the age of 14 was able to convince her mom to move to Reno to be nearer to family, including her older sister, who was pregnant at the time.

They spent about two years in Reno and were preparing to move back to Sacramento when Bri’s mom discovered she had cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was detected early and was effectively treatable, so Bri’s worries about her mother were eased. Bri ended up moving back to Sacramento while her mother remained in Reno for treatments. Bri says it was better that way because her mom could focus on getting better, and she did.

After being back in Sacramento for a couple of years, Bri decided to make a change and return to Reno to be closer to her other family, friends, and her then-love interest.

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The four-bedroom house where Bri lives with four male roommates, west of University.

Bri says she often gets in her own way of achieving her goals. She would like to go to college but is intimidated by the commitment to time and money that comes along with the collegiate experience.

“I’m afraid to just go for it because it puts me at risk of having to pay for it and I have to really devote my time to it so its frightening to me to do a lot of things like that,” Bri says.

As many hours as she works, Bri enjoys both of her jobs because they are completely different. She appreciates being able to work with other young people at Raley’s and says it is a job that “doesn’t require too much brainpower.” Her other job, giving in-home senior care, is rewarding because she is able to just spend time with interesting elderly clients.

“We play Scrabble and I get to know people and I hear their stories,” Bri says. “I’m caring for them but at the same time you’re just kind of hanging out and I love people so that’s a good job for me.”

To Bri, clashing personalities and the enormous responsibility of taking care of another person are the biggest challenges in the senior care job.

“People are resistant to (accept) help,” Bri says. “They don’t want to admit that they can’t do things anymore, so you have to be careful about how you approach people…you don’t want to offend them or make them uncomfortable.”

When she’s not working, Bri likes to spend time with her family and read novels, a hobby closely tied to her goal to someday be an editor.

Although Bri once envisioned a future living in Reno, she now says she sees herself returning to California to pursue her dreams.

“Where would I like to see myself (in 5 years)? I would definitely see myself done with college so I need to start soon,” Bri says. “And probably not living in Reno anymore. I think I’ll probably be back in California by then, hopefully with a degree and a job that I like.”

Bri’s plan for the immediate future is to enroll at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno and transfer either to a university in California or to UNR. She has family in both places; however, California’s out-of-state tuition is daunting.

Bri would like to write but she is conflicted with the idea of potentially having a “useless” degree.

“I don’t want to go (to college) for English and then be stuck there teaching,” Bri says. “Even if I end up wanting to teach, cool, but I don’t want that to be my only option.”

But for now, Bri sees her biggest success as the strong relationships she keeps with family and friends.

“Just cultivating those relationships and having a core of people that I can depend on any time and always be there for and have them be there for me if I really need them,” Bri says. “I’ve realized how important that is.”

Audio by Ryan Canaday and Melissa McMorran
Photos by Libby Brokaw
Video by Ryan Canaday

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