Featured on the St. Cloud Times. Author: Nora G. Hertel
At first, Ixayana Gonzalez couldn't think of any community need to address in the St. Cloud area. She grew up here, and life's pretty good, she said.
A trip to Mexico in 2016 opened her eyes to the traumas some Latino immigrants face before they head to America. Layer that on top of the stresses of immigrating to the U.S., and Gonzalez realized Central Minnesotan Latinos could use information on mental health — in Spanish.
Gonzalez is a senior at the College of St. Scholastica and she earned a $16,500 scholarship over two years and support to help develop a community project. Over the last school year, she wrote Spanish-language curriculum for adults and teens about mental health challenges.
This summer Gonzalez held workshops in Melrose and St. Cloud to talk about the basics of mental health. About 15 people showed up to each one.
"I think it's pretty good (turnout) for such a taboo topic in the Latino community," Gonzales said. As much stigma as there is with mental illness among the Anglo community, there's a bigger barrier among Latinos, she said.
She's one of six students who received the annual scholarships from the Minnesota Private College Council and the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation.
One Concordia University student in Gonzales' group created a program to reduce suicide and increase graduation rates among American Indian youth. Another from Augsburg College promoted leadership development among young Hmong men for his project.
The scholarship has been around since 1994, said Tom Lancaster, communications associate for the Minnesota Private College Council. The funds go to potential leaders interested in community service.
"Often it's not just a one-off project; it's trying to kick-start something," Lancaster said. And the students, he said, "they're growing as well as helping the community."
Gonzales graduated from Technical High School. Gonzales is fluent in Spanish as well as English. Her mother moved to the U.S. from Nicaragua while pregnant with her.
Gonzales drew from her own personal struggles to fuel her project. She developed depression in 2014 after starting college, at a time in her life with other stresses — a friend was diagnosed with cancer, she got out of a four-year relationship.
She knew she wasn't crazy. She also knew her mother's suggestion to simply go to church and work it out with God wasn't the whole solution to her depression.
"I can't be the only one going through mental health challenges," she said. And she wants others in the Latino community to better understand the issue for themselves.
Gonzales received good feedback from the people who came out to her workshops. And she plans to keep holding them. A priest from Long Prairie invited her to hold one there.
Gonzalez will graduate next spring with a double major in social work and organizational behavior, which deals with human resources and employee training, she said. She also has a minor in psychology.
Eventually, Gonzalez wants to become a clinical social worker and bilingual therapist. She knows there's a need, she said. "The things that I've learned, I love to share with people."