Supporting the Development of Community-Based Mental Health Professionals
In 2016, the Healthcare Foundation learned about our region’s critical shortage of bilingual/bicultural mental health professionals, and the challenges our Latinx community members have in accessing mental health services. To address this crucial need, we launched the Mental Health Talent Pipeline Project in 2018 to provide scholarships to bilingual/bicultural students in approved master’s level programs, along with stipends to help them overcome the financial stress of getting professional hours, licenses, and their first jobs in northern Sonoma County.
As our community has faced challenge after challenge in the form of floods, fires and this pandemic, we have repeatedly had to tap into our mental fortitude, our reserves of resilience. It’s one of the reasons we invested in the Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative following the 2017 fires and why mental health continues to be a priority for the Healthcare Foundation.
If you'd like to help us address the shortage of bilingual/bicultural mental health professionals in our region, take a look at our Donate Page and find out how you can support our work!
2021 Update: We are proud to announce a renewed partnership with USF to provide scholarships to bilingual, bicultural MFT students. For more information, and to learn how you can support this vital work in our community, check out our blog post or download the announcement here.
To keep up with the latest developments in this pilot program and all that the Healthcare Foundation is doing to promote health in northern Sonoma County, be sure to sign up for our digital newsletter.
"Giving Back" for the Health of the Community: Learn more about the Mental Health Talent Pipeline Project
We'd like you to meet some of our Mental Health Talent Pipeline participants:
Sonia Aguilar is drawn to a career in community mental health. She hopes to work with diverse and vulnerable populations, including Latinxs, who often face greater disparities
in access to and quality of mental health services. “I am really interested in using my bicultural skills to help the community," she said.
Sonia, who is completing her second year in the University of San Francisco’s counseling psychology graduate program, recently accepted a traineeship position with Sonoma County Behavioral Services. She starts in August. Sonia said she will be focusing on conducting mental health assessments and connecting individuals to needed services and resources.
Sonia first moved to Sonoma County when she was six years old. Her family was fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. Settling in Petaluma, Sonia went on to become the first in her family to go to college. Now a mother of two teenage boys, she attributes part of her academic success to her college counselors. She was 36 when she returned to school. She said her counselors at Santa Rosa Junior College encouraged her to complete her courses and transfer to her dream school: UC Berkeley. In 2018, she graduated from Berkeley with a bachelor's in history and English.
“I leaned on my counselors for extra support when I was struggling throughout my journey. … I met with career counselors, college counselors, and clinicians,” said Sonia, who decided to pay it forward by pursuing a master’s degree in counseling psychology. “I wanted to do the same for others.”
She said the Pipeline scholarship is helping her pursue her goal to encourage and support others. “It has lifted some weight off my shoulders in terms of economic assistance,” Sonia said.
Eylin Blake graduated last year from the University of San Francisco with a master’s in counseling psychology. She is registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences as an Associate Marriage Family Therapist and Associate Professional Clinical Counselor, and now works as a mental health clinician at Alternative Family Services, an agency that supports vulnerable families and children in the adoption process and the foster care system. Her work involves home visits where she offers therapy to kids ages 10 to 17, as well as provides psychoeducation to their families.
Some of her clients suffer from developmental trauma, attachment and oppositional defiant disorders, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities, and they require face-to-face therapy sessions, which she holds in their homes, community centers, or parks. Eylin said many children are struggling to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and telehealth does not work for them.
“I meet the client where he is at,” she said. “I need to be very creative to support them to reach their goals according to their needs. … Sometimes I bring awareness to their strengths, provide space, be kind, and provide empathetic listening. Other times I use different elements of TF-CBT, DBT, mindfulness, and expressive art. I support clients to develop their own coping skills.”
Prior to joining the agency, Eylin worked with elementary-aged children at the Mark West School District, where she did her traineeship. Many students in the district were greatly impacted by the 2017 Tubbs fire.
Born and raised in Peru, Eylin moved to Sonoma County 15 years ago. She said she wants to use her Spanish-language skills to help combat stigma around mental health in the Latinx community. Eylin said the Pipeline scholarship “was a big help” in helping her pursue her master’s degree.
Daisy Cardenas recently took on a bilingual clinician position at Side By Side, where she plans to do her traineeship this fall after completing her second year in the counseling psychology graduate program at the University of San Francisco. Side By Side, a Bay Area nonprofit, serves at-risk youth and their families. As part of its therapeutic behavioral services team in Santa Rosa, Daisy will continue to provide intensive, in-home support services for children with moderate to severe behavioral challenges.
In addition, Daisy serves as program coordinator for Santa Rosa Junior College’s HOPE program, which provides support to first-generation, low-income students pursuing careers in health care. The program aims to increase the number of bilingual and bicultural professionals in the field.
Daisy, the eldest of five children, became the first in her family to go to college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Sonoma State University in 2018. She decided to pursue a master’s in marriage and family therapy after learning about the growing rate of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system. Daisy would like to work with individuals impacted by trauma, as well as combat the stigma around mental health, particularly in the Latinx community. Raised in a Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Richmond in the East Bay, Daisy saw firsthand the impacts of mental health stigma and the need for bilingual and bicultural health and mental health providers. She said she is grateful for the Mental Health Talent Pipeline Project scholarship, which is helping pay for a portion of her tuition at USF. The project aims to increase the number of bilingual mental health professionals in Sonoma County.
“Now that I am working as a clinician ... I can see how high the need for bilingual, bicultural professionals in this field is. I am thankful to be part of the effort to close the [access] gap,” she said.
Daisy also expressed gratitude for the support she has received from Healthcare Foundation staff and the other scholarship recipients. She said, “I am so thankful because I have created a deep connection with the Pipeline recipients. … All of us who have received this scholarship have created a sisterhood.”
Cesia Jovel is wrapping up her second year in the University of San Francisco’s counseling psychology graduate program. She is preparing to start her traineeship this fall at Side By Side, where she will be working with at-risk youth ages 8 to 18. “I am excited for the challenge. It is not a population that I have ever worked with,” said Cesia, who will be joining the nonprofit’s Santa Rosa site. Side By Side provides mental health services and other resources to youth and families throughout Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and Alameda counties.
Cesia previously worked at a preschool, where she helped run a summer camp before becoming a teacher aide. She said one of the reasons she was drawn to Side By Side was its work with immigrant children. As someone who emigrated to the United States from El Salvador when she was 13 years old, Cesia said she understands the challenges many immigrant children face, including missing their homeland and “being in a place that you don’t know — the fear of the unknown.”
She looks forward to connecting with the youth at Side By Side and creating a safe space for them to talk about issues impacting them. She said the need for bilingual and bicultural therapists in the community is greater than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused major disruptions and increased stress and anxiety among adults and children, as well as disproportionately impacted the Latinx population and other communities of color. “We probably will have to shift to trauma and grief work,” she said about her future clinical work.
Cesia, who is the first in her family to enroll in graduate school, recently worked as an intake coordinator at the YWCA Sonoma County. In her role, she helped connect survivors of domestic violence with counseling and other resources. “I learned so much about domestic violence, the community, trauma-informed care, and how to talk to people,” she said. These are skills she plans to bring to her future clinical work.
"I hope that I get to bring a little more support, guidance, and healing (for clients), in the language they feel most comfortable with," Cesia said.
Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez is planning to start her traineeship with the YWCA Sonoma County this fall after completing her second year in the University of San Francisco’s counseling psychology graduate program. As a trainee, she will be working with survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence.
Prior to pursuing a counseling career, Eloísa spent about 15 years working as a journalist, covering education, government, and the Latinx and immigrant communities. She previously worked for Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat, where she was promoted as a local news editor shortly after she and her colleagues received a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for their coverage of the devastating 2017 wildfires. As a journalist, she often had to conduct difficult interviews with survivors of violence, natural disasters, and other tragedies. She learned how to approach people in a gentle, empathetic, and compassionate manner and sit with them in their discomfort and pain. She plans to bring these skills to her future job as a marriage and family therapist.
As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, Eloísa feels a sense of commitment to serve Latinxs and other marginalized and underserved communities. Growing up in an immigrant community in Southern California, she said she saw firsthand the daily hardships immigrant families endured, such as discrimination, fears of deportation, low wages, and poverty.
“I want to do more to help the Latinx community and those impacted by violence, natural disasters, and other traumas. That’s why I decided to hang up my press badge and return to school to earn a master’s in counseling psychology,” said Eloísa, who was the first in her family to go to college.
Yadira Esparza this spring became the first in her family to earn a graduate degree. In May, she received her master’s in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco. Due to the pandemic, the university did not hold an in-person commencement ceremony, so Yadira did the next best thing to celebrate her achievement: She put on her cap and gown and marched down a busy Santa Rosa road carrying a sign that read “Para Mis Padres. #Master’sDegree.”
“I walked down Sebastopol Road in my Roseland community. You should have heard the amount of honking,” said Yadira, who was accompanied by her mother and sister. “My mom enjoyed it. She was waving.”
Like fellow scholarship recipient Claudia Caballero Gonzalez, Yadira will remain at Santa Rosa City Schools, where she recently was hired as an associate marriage and family therapist after completing her traineeship there. During her traineeship, she primarily worked with elementary school students and their families, many who were Spanish-speaking.
Sonoma County residents already were experiencing higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges due to the wildfires and flooding before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic further exacerbated those challenges, Yadira said.
“This pandemic has affected so many people in so many different ways,” she said. “We [at the district] are not only looking at the well-being and mental health of our families but also the staff as well.”
Some of the students and families she also has worked with are asylum seekers. Many experienced stress and other challenges adjusting to life in a new country, she said. As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, Yadira is familiar with some of those struggles.
Yadira, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa and attended the Roseland school district, where she currently serves as a member of the Charter Board of Directors, said her parents and heritage have taught her about resilience. They also encouraged her to pursue a counseling career. “[My parents] were able to find hope even after being caught at the border three times,” she said.
“We all have different struggles,” Yadira added. “My family’s struggles is what motivated me to become a therapist to help them [immigrants] — to walk alongside their healing journey and help them tell their story.”
Before becoming a school-based therapist, she attended the police academy but ultimately decided it wasn’t what she wanted to do. Yadira, who previously received bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice and a minor in psychology, also spent six years at the Family Justice Center Sonoma County working with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder and child abuse.
To find out more about Yadira's journey, watch the video above or read our Spotlight blog post here.
Claudia Caballero Gonzalez graduated this spring with a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco. She later was hired as an associate marriage and family therapist for Santa Rosa City Schools, which served as her traineeship site and is the largest school district in Sonoma County.
“I plan to be there for a good while,” Claudia said, enthusiastically. “That’s where my focus needs to be — helping kids at school.”
During her traineeship, Claudia primarily worked with elementary school children, many who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds and Latinx and Spanish-speaking households. She also had the opportunity to work with middle school students through referrals from the Integrated Wellness Center, which the school district opened about three years ago to support families impacted by the 2017 wildfires. The wellness center has provided emotional and mental health support to students, families, and staff members throughout the pandemic.
Claudia, who was already working with the school district when she started her traineeship, said many students struggled with distance learning and social isolation, particularly in the initial months. “We are not used to being isolated this way,” she said. In those months, Claudia spent a lot of time educating students and families about depression and the emotional impacts of the pandemic. Much of the students’ talk centered around what was being reported on the news. However, she said, after the winter break, students started reporting more direct impacts from COVID-19.
“After Christmas, I was getting ‘Grandma passed away’ and ‘Grandpa passed away,’” she said. Her work then shifted to grief counseling.
Claudia spent her traineeship providing counseling services primarily online. She now looks forward to interacting with students on school campuses this coming school year. “I just want to be out there in the schools — out at recess, out at lunch,” she said.
Claudia, the eldest of four girls, is the first in her immediate family to graduate from college. She was born and raised in Santa Rosa, though she also spent time living in Lake County. As a child, her family opened their home to many foster children. Claudia said she has always wanted to help those around her and that led her to a career in counseling.
“I was following my passion of wanting to help and that led me to where I want to be,” she said.
Nallely Ramirez is a first generation Oaxaqueña who was born and raised in Sonoma County. She attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she attained a degree in Latin American and Latino Studies and Sociology. Following her graduation, she sought to utilize her training and Spanish language skills to work more closely with the Latinx community in Sonoma County in areas of gender and race, and health. She became a Bilingual Family Advocate with the YWCA of Sonoma County and soon after, a Domestic Violence Navigator at the Family Justice Center. Throughout her time working with victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, and child abuse, she remained aware of the Latinx clients who needed affordable, culturally competent, mental health services and programs. While she continued to be invested in working with victims of domestic violence and those who have experienced trauma, her goal was to further her abilities to provide individuals and families with affordable, Spanish-based therapy based on community needs. Her work at the YWCA and currently at Legal Aid of Sonoma County, reinforced her commitment to gain the tools to provide community-based therapy made accessible in Spanish. Including using education about mental health and outreach, as tools to destigmatize mental illness in the Latinx community.
This Fall Nallely will attend the University of San Francisco’s Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is one of the recipients for the Mental Health Talent Pipeline Project Scholarship, which will allow her to attend USF and continue working in the nonprofit sector after graduating. Nallely is determined to further her skills to effectively deconstruct the shame of mental health in Latinx communities and build stronger connections in Northern Sonoma County to be able to provide accessible mental health services. In expanding her current field of work working in trauma informed services, her plan is to attain licensure as a Professional Clinical Counselor and become certified as a clinical trauma professional, continuing to work with the Latinx community in a community-based clinic to provide culturally competent and affordable services.
Stephanie Malagon, 25 years old, was born and raised in Cloverdale. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently a Behavior Therapist for Kyo Autism Therapy. She is pursuing her master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) at USF Santa Rosa where she was immediately impressed by the class size as well as the cohort model. She also appreciates the fact that classes meet in the evenings some days per week, allowing her to continue working while pursuing her degree. “The Healthcare Foundation has made a huge difference in my studies,” says Stephanie. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford the program without their support.” In her free time, Stephanie enjoys going on walks and hikes as well as time spent with her chihuahua, Mia.
Sergio Aguirre has been working in the Windsor School District through SOS Community Counseling for two years. As someone whose parents did not speak much English, he understands the value of having bilingual counselors and is passionate about serving the Latinx student population and their families through academic, social and emotional challenges.
Claudia Hernandez is our sole student from SSU and recently completed her two academic years in May of 2020. She will complete her traineeship with SOS Community Counseling at Windsor High School. Claudia has a background in social services and has spent a lot of time working with the homeless population. Claudia is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health care.
Luigi Valencia has been working through SOS Community Counseling in the Healdsburg and Windsor School District for three years, specializing in at-risk youth and working closely with the local law enforcement with their youth diversion program. You can read more about Luigi at our Spotlight blog post here.