In the aftermath of the 2017 Tubbs Fire, Bianca Pulido applied for a job as a bilingual counselor for the California HOPE crisis counseling program, a state-funded initiative to support the emotional recovery of disaster survivors. In her role, which included helping to connect community members to therapeutic resources, she came to appreciate the full extent of the need for bilingual mental health services among a Latinx community hugely impacted by the devastation.
“I spent a lot of my time doing outreach in the Latinx community as part of a group called Esperanza,” explains Bianca. “There were about eight of us, who were bilingual/bicultural. We brainstormed how to find and reach the population we wanted to serve, because we knew that there were so many individuals affected that were either undocumented or unable to get the resources after losing their rental, with no insurance, and so on. I would go into the home with another crisis counselor and we would go over tools for psychological recovery and basic coping mechanisms and we would also connect individuals to resources.”
However, she and her coworkers found the necessary resources were in short supply.
“When we would try to refer these individuals out to see a therapist, the wait was anywhere from three to six months—three months for a non bilingual therapist, and it was six months out for a bilingual therapist. Not only that but the cost. There was a sliding scale but some people couldn’t even do $25 a session; it just wasn’t going to work out with what they were dealing with financially at home after the fires. That to me was heartbreaking. I thought, really? There’s no one out there that will give my client psychological attention?”
The experience would lead Bianca to pursue a career providing these much-needed services to her northern Sonoma County community.
“Mental health was so important at this time,” she recalls. “We were all affected. I experienced it as a part of this community. But with some of these individuals I was seeing, I knew how great the need was there, either for themselves or their children or their parents. That is what led me to say, OK, you know what, I’m going for it.”
While continuing to work on outreach for a Sonoma County nonprofit, Bianca began applying to programs in clinical psychology, eventually gaining acceptance to two doctorate programs. However, after consulting with the coordinator of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at USF’s Santa Rosa campus, Bianca ultimately decided an MFT offered the better fit overall for the work she wanted to do.
But the cost of the program was daunting. She reached out to the department for guidance on the financial side. She eventually got a phone call from a woman at USF telling her about the Healthcare Foundation’s Mental Health Talent Pipeline scholarship program, designed to support the education and training of aspiring local bilingual/bicultural mental health professionals dedicated to serving their northern Sonoma County community.
Now in her third year of the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of San Francisco, Santa Rosa campus, Bianca is starting her traineeship at Corazón Healdsburg in a collaboration with Side By Side with funding support by the John Jordan Foundation. For her, it’s an especially meaningful place to be launching her career as an MFT.
“Corazón is one of the resources that was really helpful during the fires,” explains Bianca. “They continue giving that support during the pandemic. Working at that agency brings me a sense of comfort and pride, too, because I know the work that they do and I know who they serve. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”