Irma Gonzalez, Advancing the Field Certificate, Class of 2019

Published on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Irma smIrma Gonzalez of Worcester doesn’t know what the future holds for her career in the human services field—but that future is much brighter thanks to the Adolescent Community Health Care Worker Certificate she recently earned through Becker’s  Advancing the Field program. Her success with the program has led her to apply to Becker for the fall 2015 semester for her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“I’m trying out different options, and we’ll see what happens,” Gonzalez said. “The program has changed my life, and those of my children, in so many ways for the better. It has opened doors for me in terms of employment opportunities as well as a better understanding of certain things in the human services field,” she added.

For many years, Gonzalez was a full-time mom to her three children, now 11, 9, and 7 years old. Two of her children have learning disabilities and behavioral challenges that have required much of her time and attention. When her children reached ages at which they were able to be mostly independent, Gonzalez began to focus on her own education. She enrolled in a local community college to get her General Education Development (GED) certification, where an advisor told her about Becker’s Advancing the Field program, which is funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and provides free professional development and training to anyone with a high school-level education who works in the behavioral health field.

Gonzalez recognized the incredible opportunity and the potential to relate the program’s lessons to her own children. “I strived to get my GED so I could enroll in the program,” she said. “I achieved that, and I got in!”

Gonzalez enjoyed the interaction and open discussions she had with other program participants, and was exposed to a lot of new material. Among the things she learned in three short, back-to-back courses during the semester-long program at Becker were Mental Health First Aid and how to help someone in crisis; how the brains of adolescents develop and function; and psychopharmacology, the study of drug-induced changes in mood, thinking, and behavior. “The program covered many concepts I didn’t even know existed!” she said.

Also as part of the program, Gonzalez began an internship at the Worcester Youth Center, which provides a safe space for education, health, and recreation programs for inner city youth. Her most rewarding experience there has been working one-on-one with a teenage girl who speaks Spanish but cannot read or write Spanish; she also cannot read, write, or speak English. “It’s still a work in progress, but she is now able to put together two-syllable words,” Gonzalez said. “She is able to read certain words, including putting sentences together. She is definitely progressing compared to when I first started with her.” Gonzalez has done so well at the youth center that when her internship ended, she was offered a temporary position as a substitute high school equivalency instructor there.

In addition to enrolling at Becker in the fall, Gonzalez is currently being considered for a position as a direct care worker for youth with special needs and mental health issues at Devereux, one of the oldest and largest nonprofit providers of behavioral healthcare in the country. She is also thinking about becoming a social worker in the future.

Where Gonzalez will end up, she’s not sure. But what she does know is that many new doors have been opened to her thanks to Becker. “It’s all because of this program,” she said.