How One Child in Need Changed My Life Trajectory

By Yang Sandoval, RSW, School-Based Mental Health Therapist

Child in needIt only took one child in need to change my life trajectory. When I was younger, my only goal in life was to become an elite fashion buyer for big retail corporations. At the age of 18, and being so certain with my career path, nothing in the world mattered more to me than fashion.  In 2005, I enrolled at the Art Institute of Seattle to study Fashion Marketing and Management. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in March 2009.

I worked at high-end luxurious retail stores that took a big toll on my mental health.  The more I worked, the more I realized that the fashion world was anything but glamorous.  I worked extremely long hours, always having to cancel plans with my family, and I felt so much negativity.

I decided to leave it all behind and did a great amount of self-reflection about what I wanted to dedicate my professional life’s work to. I decided to give back to my community and volunteered at numerous non-profit organizations. The more I gave back, the more my dreams of becoming a fashion buyer slowly disappeared. Soon, that passion became a blur and I no longer cared for that materialistic world.

My love for helping others was the deciding factor in volunteering at Horn of Africa Services, a non-profit organization that serves children in need, particularly East African immigrants and refugees. This organization provides services like counseling and referral services.  One particular teenager that I spent most of my time with was a 13-year-old boy named “Basia,” who suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.  The other children seem to excel in their education, but Basia had many problems with paying attention and understanding abstract concepts.

I continuously worked with this child in need to help him with his grammar, penmanship, and failing grades. Each week, we both came up with different strategies to help him study and accomplish his homework assignments.  As time went by, my friendship with Basia blossomed.  I never saw him as my student but treated him as an equal and a friend.  We talked about his dreams, his family, and his struggles with being a teenager. He repeatedly explained that growing up in a household with parents that did not speak or understand English was difficult.

Basia was not just another child in need that had ADHD, he was a kid who also wanted to work hard and have a bright future. He had many obstacles to overcome, and those obstacles could be alleviated with social resources and support. I volunteered to become a tutor, but I, in turn, also became a role model. I realized that this was my true calling and that I was good at it!  I decided to go back to school and got my Master’s in Social Work at The University of Washington.

So, here I am today, a School-Based Mental Health Therapist for The Florida Center for Early Childhood. Being a therapist can be extremely stressful, just like my previous career, but this time, it’s a different type of stress.  I go home every night, feeling valued, and knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of the children I serve. My love for fashion will always be a part of me.  Sometimes, I miss that glamorous life, but I wouldn’t change anything about my life today. Helping children is my true calling.