Nallely Ramirez was born in Healdsburg and grew up in Windsor. Since graduating from UC Santa Cruz, she has worked as a bilingual case worker with Legal Aid Sonoma County, helping survivors of domestic violence obtain needed services, compose and file necessary paperwork, and navigate the sometimes confusing court system—basically getting them to the stage of a hearing, at which point an attorney takes over their case.
“I think having that bilingual aspect to the work that we do changes a lot of lives,” says Nallely, who before joining Legal Aid had also assisted survivors of domestic violence at the YWCA and the Family Justice Center.
“Working with people in trauma, it’s something that I’ve been doing for some time now,” she explains. “I knew this was something I could do, something I liked doing, and it was something I wanted to expand on.”
Noting the importance of mental health support for the clients she worked with, she also confronted the dearth of accessible services available to them.
“That’s when it gets really hard. Where do you refer clients, without them having to pay? Or when it’s not a good fit, where else can you send a client?”
Nallely began looking around for programs through which she could develop her career to directly serve Sonoma County’s vulnerable Latinx population.
She applied and was accepted to the three-year advanced degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at USF Santa Rosa. She then secured a full tuition scholarship from Healthcare Foundation’s Mental Health Talent Pipeline project to make it a reality. She starts her studies this fall.
“That’s why the Mental Health Talent Pipeline project scholarship is so important,” she says. “It’s providing this opportunity to continue working in the nonprofit sector to provide free services, without having to worry about paying back loans or having to worry about bills and things like that. Rather, I can pursue my education, and I can go right into working and providing these services that are really needed in this county.”
Nallely sees her career path as part of a much needed change in the culture around mental health.
“When I was growing up, mental health wasn’t something that was brought up with anybody, whether it was the school or my family, it just wasn’t something that was talked about,” she remembers. “Culturally, if you were anxious, it was, ‘Oh, you have nervios.’ That’s how you would say it in Spanish. ‘Oh, you’re just nervous.’”
“That’s always been something in the back of my mind,” she admits. “Now that I’m older, to be able to see how stigmatized mental health was, and the importance of access to mental health education—it really does make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”