Social Work alumnae, senior empower families through community health initiatives

College of Health and Behavioral Studies

Two alumnae from JMU’s Social Work program are key forces in community health efforts for Harrisonburg and surrounding communities.

Brooke Garcia (’06) works as the program coordinator for Healthy Families of the Blue Ridge, and Alisia Garcia (’21) is a community health educator with Hand in Hand Resource Mothers Program — two agencies within Community Health at Sentara RMH. The “sister programs” receive referrals and do similar work through home visits to local expectant mothers, but specialize in age-group demographics.

Hand in Hand Resource Mothers provides services to families whose expectant teenagers who are 20 years old or younger.

“We work with them through their pregnancy all the way up until their child turns one year old,” said Alisia, about Hand in Hand Resource Mothers. Alongside providing “education and support on their body changing, baby growing, and help them prepare for the first year of their baby’s life” through home visits, Hand-in-Hand Resource Mothers also supports pregnant individuals under 20 years old to set and achieve goals for themselves, such as career paths or college, and for their future families.

Healthy Families of the Blue Ridge works with first-time parents to provide access to "what they need to support their child’s health, growth and development from birth to five years,” according to their brochure. Services for the parent and child continue until the child starts pre-school or kindergarten.

Social Work senior Marina Peña currently works with Brooke as an intern with Healthy Families of the Blue Ridge for her Field Work requirement.

“I started off shadowing other caseworkers on their home visits,” Peña said. “Once I got more experience in that, I started doing the documentation for them after every visit.”

Now, Peña is involved in many services and tasks at Healthy Families. “I plan activities, what we’re going to talk about, what we’re going to do that day” at home visits. In addition, Peña supports Healthy Families by organizing documents, planning a monthly support group, and building relationships with local businesses that provide donations.

“I really like working with clients,” Peña said. “No matter how tired I am or how much homework I have, as soon as I get to work with the clients, be at their houses, see them with their babies, getting excited with them about milestones, I really love that part.”

Brooke shared that JMU social work interns arrive with knowledge of “strengths-based perspective,” a central social work theory utilized in the home visit approaches of both Healthy Families and Hand-in-Hand Resource Mothers. “Every family has strengths,” said Brooke, who explained that both programs focus on building up the existing strengths of the first-time families to foster security and success. “[It] comes second nature to social work students that have already learned that.”

“[Brooke] is really able to understand what the [Social Work] experience is like and what it’s like to be an intern, and is really willing to support me in that,” Peña said.  

Peña shared that Brooke allows her space to learn and grow independently “because she knows that JMU students are capable of it, because JMU has prepared us so well.”

Brooke and Alisia believe that JMU Social Work were key parts to their interest and success in the social work field. After taking different Intro-Level courses in subjects like anthropology, psychology, and sociology, Brooke realized “this is it” after taking Intro to Social Work.

“Some of my [first] volunteer hours I did with Healthy Families,” Brooke said. “That was my first exposure to preventative work, and it really impressed me that preventative work really matters.”

“I knew I loved working with children and families in general,” Alisia said. Similar to Brooke, Alisia shared that despite having an inclination for helping others, she “didn’t know what that would look like.”

When Alisia had her son while in high school, she was connected with Hand in Hand Resource Mothers, who supported her through her pregnancy. “I had no idea what I was doing, no idea how to plan for the future or what goals I could even set,” she said.

Alisia said the Resource Mother she connected with “guided me, helping me make sure I could do the basic things of raising a child, but also gave me hope into looking at finishing school and setting long term goal.”

Reflecting on the connections she’s made from the classroom to her field experience, Peña said. “I’ve found the importance of empathy and treating people with respect” to be very important. “We have an ethical code that everyone should be affording dignity and worth. We’re expected to practice cultural humility and cultural competency.”

Alisia shared that her experience at JMU “definitely” set her up for success to enter the workplace after graduating. “I felt so prepared, from learning and having hands-on experience before graduating. As I’m meeting new families and learning new things, I’m often reminded of those things I learned back through the Social Work program.”

“One of the best parts about Social Work at JMU is that it lets students get to know the community,” Peña said. “When you get to know people in the community, it just means so much more. I’m really grateful to JMU Social Work because you really get to see the beauty within the community.”

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by Lindsey Park

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, May 2, 2024

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