The students each won an $18,500 stipend from the Marriage and Family Therapy Consortium of the Central Valley—earning nearly half of the 14 awards the consortium presented for 2014-2015. The consortium, one of several in California, stretches from Sacramento to Los Angeles, covering Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne counties.
"To have six stipend winners is extraordinary. It reflects the high quality of a program that turns out excellent therapists with high personal integrity, unparalleled moral character and a commitment to Christ that fuels their passion for working with the disenfranchised and downtrodden," said Cynthia McGrady, Ph.D., assistant professor and program director of marriage and family therapy, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.
The stipend winners are: Sylvia Fulton, Aaryn Mackey, Maria Romero, Joy Juarez, Roxanne Aguirre and Carolina Lemus. All earned B.A.s in psychology, Romero and Mackey at FPU; Fulton at Chapman University; Lemus at U.C. Merced; and Juarez and Aguirre from California State University, Fresno.
Stipend recipients must spend one year at a mental health services agency serving people in poor/underserved populations in the region where the award was issued. All will graduate from the seminary in May 2015, except Aguirre, who completed her studies in December 2014.
There are as many reason to enter the MFT field as there are therapists, but for some stipend winners the connection was personal. "I was an international student when I came to the States and I felt like I didn't fit in. I became fascinated with connections," said Fulton, a native of Hong Kong.
Lemus started her undergraduate career with plans to be a pediatrician, until her mother began suffering from depression. "When she decided to seek mental health services, her life and our life completely changed for the best. When I witnessed the enormous benefits and impact psychotherapy had in my family, I knew this was the path I wanted to take; I knew I wanted to help others the way this clinician had helped my mother and my family heal," she said.
All winners agreed, however, that the reason they chose FPU's program had to do with the integration of academics and faith. "I really appreciated the emphasis that FPU has on theology. As a counselor, I think it is essential to have a strong theological foundation and to know what I believe, particularly as I meet with individuals who are struggling with theological and existential issues," Mackey said.
"I was not able to attend a Christian college for my undergraduate degree," Aguirre said. "I felt that was lacking in my training and that I would benefit from studying at the seminary. It was important for me to receive training from professors who were both ministers and therapists. I was impressed with the kindness shown by the faculty and the sense of community expressed by the students."
What does the stipend mean?
Receiving the stipend has both great practical and emotional value to the winners. "It's an honor to be awarded," Juarez said. "It costs a lot of money to do this, and I'm a single mom and putting myself through school."
"I am truly thankful that I was one of the chosen because it means I can continue to work for community mental health and continue to pay off my loans. It is a huge weight lifted," Romero said.
The stipend award allows all six students to live out their calling to be a transformative force in contemporary culture. "Social justice isn't just an idea on a page at the seminary, it's one that is lived through the lives of our graduates who choose to work with people and in areas that many other therapists find difficult, if not impossible, to do," McGrady said.