Supporting families in El Salvador's communities afflicted by gangs
While it was clear that Annie Boyd’s career would focus on service, her path to the School of Social Service Administration was not entirely direct.
“I worked for seven years before starting at SSA, while gaining meaningful experiential knowledge about international development, social work, and nonprofit management,” Boyd said. “But I wanted more concrete skills and theoretical knowledge to best support the people I served and the career that I wanted.”
Boyd’s journey to SSA started after she graduated from Marquette University with a BA degree in psychology and Spanish. Boyd, a Chicago-native, went to El Salvador to work at Casa de la Solidaridad, a study abroad program where she had previously studied. While at Casa, Boyd wore another hat working as a case manager at a child development center. For more than three years, she worked with the Casa program in various administrative capacities. During that time, Boyd and another entrepreurial colleague co-founded Programa Velasco. The new initiative “started as an idea discussed over the dinner table. We wanted to provide scholarships for pre-school students by asking friends and family to sponsor a portion of their tuition,” said Boyd. “Our co-founder, Juan Velasco, and I witnessed a need and were inspired to find sustainable ways for early childhood education to continue in a very precarious neighborhood. As more people began supporting our work, we started the process to become a formal nonprofit organization.”
While continuing to support Programa Velasco’s growth, Boyd moved back to Chicago and worked at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducting public health research. After working full time as Executive Director for Programa Velasco, she transitioned to a part-time schedule to attend SSA. “I chose to attend SSA because I trusted it was a strong fit for me” said Boyd. “I wanted to learn as much as possible about both clinical social work and social service administration. I also was excited to be connected and involved in the larger University of Chicago community.”
Boyd has a concentration in social service administration, and takes many clinical classes so she can continue working as a counselor. Eventually, she hopes to become a licensed clinical social worker. “I enjoy working in a therapist role and providing counseling services, but I also enjoy grant writing, program evaluation, and fundraising so that organizations can have the resources to employ more social workers.” She’s enjoyed a range of SSA classes. One class within the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at UChicago Booth has been a way for Boyd to apply a different lens to her social welfare learning, collaborating with business school students and acquiring consulting and presentation skills, while working on a project for a local nonprofit organization. Her political processes class with Lecturer Amy Khare has been a standout because of Khare’s ability to build a sense of openness and unity within the class. Another class in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy with Lecturer Paul Holmes that incorporated mindfulness practice “allowed me to learn so much about myself – my vulnerabilities and strengths. The class also helped me to utilize mindfulness and other concepts into daily professional and personal activities.”
At her field placement at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the UChicago Law School, Boyd serves as a child advocate for unaccompanied child migrants who are mostly from Central America. Each week, she visits children in a detention center and learns more about their story, needs, and desires. With this knowledge, she can better advocate for the children and their wishes and safety. She has submitted Best Interest Recommendation letters to immigration judges and governmental officials who determine if a child can be released to family or can receive legal status. She also works on policy level projects as well as fundraising efforts for the Young Center.
In addition to her coursework, Boyd continues her role as Programa Velasco’s Executive Director, readily applying her SSA training and skills. “In each SSA course,” Boyd said, “I have either learned something more about myself to become a stronger, more knowledgeable, and compassionate advocate and leader. Or, I have learned important skills, tasks, or principles that can build a stronger organization. I am taking a Child and Adolescent Trauma course and shared much of the research material with the Salvadoran psychologist on our team so she too can learn more about that population. Through my research course I’ve also acquired stronger skills to improve our programs’ monitoring and evaluation procedures.”
Since graduation, Boyd has continued working at Programa Velasco while living in El Salvador. Boyd notes that in 2015, El Salvador’s homicide rate rose by 70 percent – reaching 104 homicides per 100,000 people, more than 10 times higher than the World Health Organization’s definition of an epidemic. “We work in the center of a community, divided by the country’s two main gangs. Many children and families have endured many traumatic events, yet the violence is ongoing, so they continue to experience stress and hardship. This trauma requires counseling services, but the demand outweighs the current supply, which is limited and undercapitalized. Part of my role is to seek expanded funding so these services and other programs can continue.”
Boyd, who received scholarship support for both years of her studies, feels indebted to UChicago and SSA for “acknowledging my strengths and potential…I plan to repay this generosity and support by using the skills I have gained in ways that empower the most marginalized in our world. And when I am able to financially contribute to scholarships, I will be honored to support another SSA student!”