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Baylor University graduate students Xiomara O'Neill, Beatriz Ramos, Andrew Trujillo and Emilie Ventura have been awarded scholarships from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to support bilingual mental health services in Texas. All are students in the Baylor School of Social Work.
O'Neill, originally from Colombia, spent years working as a dentist and congregational leader there before moving to Texas in 2007. The time spent in her home country led to O'Neill's desire to help other by becoming a social worker. "People sought me for counsel and for help in planning for social change," she said. In addition to social work, O'Neill also is pursuing a master of divinity degree at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.
As a first-generation U.S.-born citizen, Ramos was inspired to become a bilingual provider of mental health services in her hometown in the Rio Grande Valley. She hopes to overcome the language barrier and combat the stigma of mental illness that exists for many in the Latino community. "I am committed to serving these communities, because I am part of them and I want to give back to those who have given so much to me," she said. Ramos received a bachelor's degree in psychology from The University of Texas-Pan American and is an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Trujillo received his undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado and spent the past three years working with adults as an instructor of English as a second language in Greeley, Colo. He attributes his commitment to serving the Latino community to his desire to reconnect to his own Hispanic heritage. "Language is such a rich part of culture that I decided to pursue Spanish proficiency. Along the way, I found a deep desire to serve the Hispanic community," he said.
Ventura spent time as a missionary in the Dominican Republic after earning a bachelor's degree in religion with a minor in psychology from Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. Her experiences living and working in a Latin American country provided her with a deep understanding and appreciation for the Latino community and inspired her to become a provider of bilingual social work services. "Every time I meet with a Spanish-speaking client and hear her story, I am reminded of why I believe it is so important to be able to serve this group of people in their own language," she said.
The scholarships are part of a statewide strategy to increase Spanish-language mental health services. The strategy has proven so successful that the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health is investing an additional $1.5 million to extend the program three more years.
The foundation pays tuition and fees for new bilingual students entering graduate social work programs in Texas. In return, students agree to provide mental health services in Texas for a period equal to the timeframe of the scholarship. The foundation has awarded 82 scholarships in just two years.
"Texas has a shortage of mental health workers, especially those who speak languages other than English. These scholarships are producing a new generation of social workers who have the education, training, cultural awareness and language skills needed to help fill that gap," said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez Jr., executive director of the foundation.
The Hogg Foundation was founded in 1940 by the children of former Texas Gov. James Hogg to improve mental health for the people of Texas. The foundation is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.