Alexandria Okeke, Paolo David Rodriguez and Kira White will receive training and mentorship, along with a $6,500 annual grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Credit: Kasra Koushan / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Some graduate students working to better the lives of minority children and youth in the Philadelphia area have been awarded with a prestigious fellowship.

Three of the 40 graduate students who were accepted into the Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program this academic year study at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice.

The three students, Alexandria Okeke, Paolo David Rodriguez and Kira White will receive additional training and mentorship during their studies at Penn, along with a $6,500 annual grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The fellows are committed to working with underserved adolescents and youth in minority communities.

Okeke works on the intersectionality of sexuality, race, gender and class with a specific focus on youth. She currently takes courses on child welfare and interns in Trans Care Services at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia.

“I feel like there is a limited amount of resources that are focused on that population. I hope to apply what I learned from the classes and the program through a framework of intersectionality. For example, what does child welfare look like when we think about intersectional communities? How do children and youths navigate throughout the United States?”

After graduation, Okeke plans to work in Georgia, where “there isn’t [much] centralized LGBT healthcare.”

“Ultimately I would love to open a foster-care or child welfare agency that is focused on LGBT children and youth. So LGBT kids who may run away or get kicked out because of their sexuality can be taken care of,” Okeke said.

Rodriguez chooses to be a social worker to follow his mother’s career path.

“My parents are immigrants, and I was also born in Costa Rica. My mom is a social worker. I grew up going to work with her and I saw all the meaningful change she had on the minority families,” he said.

Rodriguez believes that his minority background aids to his services for the Latino community.

“I’m glad to receive training from the fellowship to be able to produce better outcomes for youth from minority backgrounds,” Rodriguez said, noting that more support will be needed as the nation-wide Latino community grows. “It’s better to take actions now before the demographic changes take effect.”

He has done individual and group therapy with children and adolescents from Chester County last year.

“Some of the children talk in Spanish. It’s rare for them to have not only a role model, but also a role model who also speaks Spanish and comes from similar culture and [the] Latino umbrella,” Rodriguez said.

White pursues mental health services for children and adolescents in the public schools of Philadelphia. She currently works at the Mill Creek School, an alternative therapeutic high school just blocks from Penn in West Philadelphia.

“I work at a private school, where students can get services that they won’t in the public schools of their districts,” White said. “This could be a model for how it can be done. In the past few years, there were a lot of public schools that didn’t even have a nurse for more than twice a week.”

White is also pursuing a degree in public health, which will help her learn the administrative side of mental health services in public schools.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Social Policy & Practice, Joretha Bourjolly, said she takes pride in the three students. She is also the director of the MSW program at Penn.

“They were selected because they already fulfill some of the expectations of the fellowship by demonstrating the courses they’re taking and their internships in this area,” she said, “These are students who definitely demonstrate leadership and commitment.”

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