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MSW, Latina, Mental Health, Underserved

I first moved to New York City at the age of twelve from the Dominican Republic. Although I was born in New York City I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents in the Dominican Republic. I did, however, live for a year in Miami where I completed the 3rd grade, which helped me develop a multicultural and multilingual identity early on. The celebration of multiculturalism is central to the career in Social Work that I seek to pursue as an MSW Professional with a special emphasis on community health - counseling and mental health issues in particular – focused on the underserved and people of color.

I am half Dominican and half Ecuadoran; thus, the Latino world is my own and I want that to be more inclusive still.  This is why I am currently learning Portuguese, as a compliment to being a native speaker/writer of both English and Spanish. I sincerely hope that one of my greatest contributions will be to help correct misconceptions about mental health issues and facilitate connection to mental health services by working alongside and directly with my community. This issue is especially close to my heart since Latino culture places a stigma on mental health disorders and this ethnic group in particular has very low access rates to our mental health support structures - Latinos who are here in the USA legally in addition to and especially those who are undocumented.

I currently work as a Care Coordinator in a community based organization that serves people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions that have a detrimental effect on their mental health. We assist clients to live more productive lives, working closely with New York Presbyterian hospital: doctors, social workers and mental health providers, working as a team to help the client achieve their goals. I help my clients to understand their conditions and challenges in the context of promoting healthy behavior and providing health education. I also assist with advocacy, housing, referrals attaining benefits (such as food stamps or disability), etc.

During my first few weeks as a Care Coordinator my goal was to get to know each and every one of my clients and set realistic goals to follow for the next 3-6 months. I knew what kind of a position this would be and how very challenging many of the clients could be – but I am meeting the challenge and enjoy it very much. One of my clients is especially exemplary of the issues that I look forward to addressing in my career and the kind of people that I look forward to helping: a 70-year-old Colombian man who is HIV- positive with severe mental health issues that went undiagnosed for a very long time. While in the home visit with this particular client I noticed how disconnected he was from reality at that moment. What started as a normal conversation turned into a conspiracy to get him out of his apartment building. This client claimed that his neighbors knew his status and, as a result, monitored him by placing microphones and small cameras in and around his dwelling. Due to the severity of his mental condition, the few encounters he has had with mental health professionals were not successful at helping him in any meaningful way. The central problem, however, is the client’s attitude; he did not want to engage with mental health services because he thought it was only for "crazy" people.  This client had few friends and no family in the US and spent most of his time alone. As his Care Coordinator, I sympathized with my client and wanted to help him as much as I could but my help ended up being pushed away and he stopped participating in our program. This particular client closed his case and left his apartment because of his paranoia and he is currently homeless with severe mental health issues, walking the streets of New York City alone. I continue to think about this particular client because he is exemplary to me of someone who has fallen through the cracks, is highly vulnerable, and desperately needs the support of his community. I suspect that we could do a much better job at helping these kinds of clients, the mentally ill, than what we’re already doing and I try to think creatively about new ways that we might better serve these kinds of clients in light of the limited resources available.

I was a late bloomer academically. Much of this had to do with my own struggle as a minority youth to avoid running into problems, what we usually call “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” This was temporary, however. I continued to study part time at my own pace and my grades improved as time went on. I learned from my mistakes, and the experiences of my own challenges as a young person will help me when I am advising my clients about the importance of avoiding “the wrong crowd.” Once I earned my two-year degree I finished my BA at XXXX College in 2 years, majoring in Forensic Psychology. Upon graduating I decided to make a service trip to Zambia in southern Africa where I taught English in a community school to children from local neighborhoods. It was a marvelous opportunity for growth, getting out of my comfort zone, being a witness to how people take direct action, and contributing positive things on my own. Once in Zambia, I met so many people that shared my passion for social justice issues, all of them seeking to make the world a better place in his or her own way and I found this enormously stimulating, helping me to better understand the complexities of issues from a variety of perspectives and to think increasingly creatively about possible solutions.  I have learned a great deal from my professional and volunteer experiences so far and I am now fully aware of the great effort and dedication required to contribute successfully to progressive change and development. I am ready to make a positive impact.

My long-term objective is to work directly with people who struggle with mental health issues and serve as a guide, helping, ultimately, to more successfully address mental health issues in Latino communities.  Earning the MSW will help me to realize my dream of becoming a leader with respect to community service. I am passionate and driven just like my fellow applicants but I think what sets me apart is my dedication. I think that with the right training I will be able to make a difference. Working with people with mental health issues has given the opportunity to see how challenging it can be to get connected to mental health services due to a large variety of different factors which tend to cluster into hurdles that are sometimes simply insurmountable, primarily as a result of a lack of resources and other issues which tend to afflict low income communities in general.  After earning my MSW, I look forward to a professional lifetime of working directly with children that have mental health issues and critical challenges. In the future, perhaps even within my lifetime or sooner, we can start treating mental health issues with the same urgency and determination that we address physical diseases and afflictions, working together to care more adequately for the most vulnerable members of our society. I thank you for considering my application to Social Work at XXXX University Graduate School.

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