Social Work student earns $5,000 scholarship
Jessica Narvaez Gonzalez, a student at the Graduate College of Social Work, was one of eight recipients in Texas to receive a 2013 Ima Hogg Scholarship for Mental Health. The $5,000 scholarships are awarded to social work graduate students who are committed to providing mental health services to the people of Texas.
“I am still in complete awe,” Gonzalez said. “I have always given myself wholeheartedly to pursuing my passion for helping those most vulnerable in our society, and it is an humbling experience to have my hard work, perseverance and dedication to the social work profession acknowledged.”
As a master’s student, her concentration will be in clinical practice with a specialization in working with Hispanic individuals seeking care.
“There is a great stigma in the Hispanic culture that prevents individuals from seeking out mental health services,” Gonzalez said. “I hope to work as a social work clinician in the mental health field and provide services to the Hispanic population of Harris County.”
At an early age, Gonzalez said she learned what it meant to be a part of a minority group and experienced firsthand the societal structures, language barriers and racism that oppresses those individuals who are deemed less worthy of respect or opportunity. Gonzalez said her experience growing up in a Hispanic household is what drove her to enter the field of social work and influenced her interest to work with the Hispanic population in Houston.
“I have directly experienced what it is like to feel helpless, worthless and invaluable simply because I am Hispanic,” Gonzales said. “As young as six years old, I had to begin translating for my parents in grocery stores, banks, practically everywhere. I was their only chance of communicating effectively. Countless times, I kept many harsh comments that were made by strangers who were judging my family for not being ‘Americanized’ enough, for not having the work ethic and desire to learn the English language just because we were Hispanic.”
Gonzalez has worked as an intern with two different businesses that guided her decision to become involved with social work, including Change Happens!, a community-based nonprofit program primarily serving adults and youth at risk by providing intensive care management to individuals who have previously experienced homelessness. She worked within two programs during her time there: the Rescue-in-Motion program, which provides housing for individuals who are homeless and have a physical, mental health or substance abuse condition, and the Services To Aid In Retaining Shelter program, which offers intensive care management services and therapy to individuals in the RIM program.
“This experience provided me with the ability to work directly with individuals who had mental health conditions and societal barriers that prevented them from pursuing their goals,” Gonzalez said. “I learned to apply social work skills into practice and how to navigate the mental health and medical insurance systems.”
Gonzalez also volunteered with Crisis Intervention of Houston as a crisis call counselor, serving individuals in crises with mental health concerns.
“[Working as a crisis call counselor] opened my eyes to the great need for mental health services for individuals of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and income levels,” Gonzalez said. “No one is exempt from the vulnerability of mental health issues; however, some have greater opportunities to obtain resources that aid to manage their conditions.”
Gonzalez said that without her scholarship, she would not be able to pursue her master’s degree.
“Coming from a single-family income household and with my husband and me both college students, my dream of obtaining a Master’s of Social Work was financially unobtainable,” Gonzalez said. “This scholarship provided a way when there was no way. I believe that the social work profession is about helping people find the key to the doors they want to walk through, and this scholarship provided the key to one of the many doors I will encounter in my educational journey to obtaining my dream of helping and empowering individuals in vulnerable situations.”
Gonzalez said once she obtains her Master’s of Social Work degree, she plans on practicing in mental health as a clinical social worker in the Harris County area.