Master of Social Work (MSW) intern Cristina Reyes has worked on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and students have already noted her impact.“Every week, I receive requests from students specifically asking to see Cristina because they have heard great things about her from friends and other GC students,” said Liz Andes, assistant dean of students and director of health and wellness.
Reyes is currently enrolled in the MSW program at Indiana University South Bend which places students at a practicum site based on their preference. She is also set to graduate next month.
Reyes never imagined herself working in her current position; instead, she said, “All throughout childhood, when asked, I would say I wanted to be a teacher.”
From 2014 to 2018, she worked as a youth program assistant at Middle Way House, a transitional housing shelter for women and families escaping intimate partner violence, in Bloomington, Indiana.
“It wasn’t until college when I started working [there] and exploring my interests in courses where I felt really drawn to working with individuals and families,” Reyes said. “I learned so much throughout my time there, and I had a really great mentor who always encouraged me.”
In 2018, she began working at Oaklawn with youth for two years before changing roles to become a transition facilitator for 14 to 26-year-olds.
Andes affirmed Reyes’ many years of experience, noting what a “gift to our community” she is.
“Cristina has honed her clinical skills through many years working with young adults at Oaklawn,” Andes said. “Her talents have been put to great use here at GC.”
After graduation, Reyes will work at Oaklawn as a therapist for adults going through their first psychotic episode. Although becoming a licensed clinical social worker is an end goal, she is excited to step into her new role. She is also considering coming to GC to work part-time next fall.
“My general experience at Goshen College has been amazing,” Reyes said. “Everyone here has been so welcoming and supportive.”
Reyes also shared that her decision to enter the mental health field goes beyond coursework and field experience, noting how her personal experiences served as a catalyst.
“I grew up in a household with a parent who struggled with mental illness and substance abuse disorder and another parent who handles everything with such grace and resilience,” Reyes said.
While working at Middle Way House, she dealt with personal issues, such as unhealthy relationships and navigating the immigration legal system to keep her family intact, all while dealing with her own mental health.
As for her time at GC, she said it has been an “incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience to know that I have helped students overcome obstacles, achieve their goals, and most importantly, feel heard and validated.”
Being a therapist of color is also essential to Reyes.
“As a Latina woman, I did not have someone who looked like me to talk to and I know how important that was for me,” she said. “I feel honored to have been trusted by students, especially students of color who have never tried counseling before.”
“For BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students, academic stressors are compounded by stressors related to racism, discrimination and cultural identity,” she added.
“I believe my experience as a Latina and first generation college graduate allowed some students to feel seen and understood.”
It is also rewarding for Reyes to see students “grow in various aspects of their lives” as well as collaborate with colleagues to create support groups for BIPOC to “share freely about their experiences on campus.”
The biggest challenge in her job is “listening to all … the heavy things” people carry.
“Sometimes, I’m sitting here and … begin thinking about things you went through,” she said. “But, then, [you] have to remember to be present and ground myself.”
Reyes also noted with teary eyes how she finds it rewarding when she sees the impacts of counseling sessions with students and their growth over time.
To escape the demands of her job, she tries to make time to do things for herself, even if they are little.
“It’s getting up in the morning and getting ready. That is my quiet time where I can just listen to my podcasts and music,” Reyes said. “And at the end of the night, not doing anything for the last hour before I go to bed.”
Reyes advises students seeking counseling, specifically those of color, to “not be afraid to go into it with an open mind. And also, be ready to ask for what you need.”