1. How did you become interested in pursuing social work?
As an undergraduate student in psychology, pursuing a career in social work was never in my life plan. Rather, my initial career goal was to become a prison psychologist, because I wanted to help individuals who were at their lowest. Unfortunately, my life took a turn when my mother passed away from gastric cancer during my senior year in college. While losing my mother has been the worst experience of my life, I still believe that she did not die in vain, as her death made me rethink the path I would take. With my mother’s spirit guiding me, my sole focus became to graduate with my bachelor’s degree and to get a job, thereafter. In an attempt to gain firsthand experience within the criminal justice system, I applied to various state and county level positions as a correctional officer. Working for the Monterey County Probation Department as a Juvenile Institutions Officer (JIO) thus allowed me the opportunity to work with diverse youth from disenfranchised backgrounds. While this job was very challenging in several ways, I still consider the feeling of helplessness as the most difficult aspect of being a JIO. The inability to support the youth as they cycled in and out of the juvenile hall – some youth even returning the same day – drove me to dread working in such a solemn place. However, it was the days where I was able to stop youth from hurting themselves or to help them to believe in themselves that I found purpose in empowering youth as a social worker in the juvenile justice system. Ultimately, the holistic approach of social work attracted me, because it provided the opportunity to work alongside youth and their families in the battle to enact long-term change.
2. What area of social work are you most interested in? Why?
My main area of interest is Juvenile Justice and I aspire to work in detention centers as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
3. What made you decide to become an NASW member?
In April 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in Lobby Days. This three-day trip helped me understand the vast network, supplemental resources, and political activism available through NASW membership. For someone so new to social work, I truly appreciated the family-like ambiance that NASW presented, because it provided me a strong sense of belonging. With the motivation from my first-year professor and mentor, Christina “Tina” Paddock, LCSW, I signed up to be an NASW student member that same weekend. A few months later, I found myself applying to serve on the NASW Leadership Board at the University of Southern California (USC). Serving as the Student Co-Chair for the 2019-2020 academic year excelled my experience at USC. It provided a strong platform to support my fellow social warriors by creating social justice initiatives, networking opportunities, and enhancing the Trojan Family spirit. Most importantly, it helped further my passion as a mental health advocate for marginalized communities.
4. What are your interests outside of social work?
I love fitness and the outdoors! At the moment, I am fortunate to live near the Monterey Bay, so kayaking, hiking, biking, boxing, and eating clam chowder have become regular hobbies. This passion has actually impacted my mental health so positively that I plan to unite fitness and social work in the near future. Another way I take care of myself is through gardening and landscaping, because it helps me keep my mom’s memory alive. She absolutely loved yellow roses, so you can often find me carrying something yellow. Today, this color means so much to me, because I’ve found that yellow not only boosts my energy, but it also helps brighten others day. It’s a small way to inspire smiles.
5. What advice would you give to future social work students?
My best piece of advice to other social work students is to invest in your own mental health. As a child, I desperately wished that someone would listen, because I had no idea how to handle my life and the abuse around me. I came into this field to be that person to others. However, as I continued in my program, I realized that the desire to be listened to actually never disappeared. Rather, I strived to cover my wounds by “getting over it.” As I became a source of support to others, I quickly discovered how alive my wounds and trauma truly were. After much crying and self-loathing, I learned to invest in my own mental health by seeking therapy. It not only helps me process my countertransference, but also continues to give me hope that this field and my trauma will not destroy me. So, to all the social work students out there, continue to believe in yourself, continue to see the good in others, and most importantly, stop being your own therapist.
Carina A. Romero
Submitted by S. Jolene Hui, MSW, LCSW, NASW-CA Director of Membership