From student to social worker
Inside Ozanam Manor, a transitional housing facility at St. Vincent de Paul, Emily Perales has an office all her own where she does case management for several residents — connecting them to resources, helping establish incomes and overcoming barriers to housing.
But not long ago, the case manager hadn’t imagined this profession for herself. Emily originally intended to become an ultrasound sonographer. But when a local community college told her the waitlist for the program was 10 years long, Emily had to rethink her career.
A school counselor jumped at the opportunity to recommend Emily for the SVdP Scholarship Program, designed to help first-generation college students afford higher education and attend a four-year university.
The program offers workshops and pairs students with an assigned mentor who is there to guide and offer support throughout the student’s entire college career. Beyond academic help, scholars learn practical life skills on money management, work/life balance and how to weigh future career options.
Emily applied and was accepted. She was able to finish her last semester at community college, earn her associate’s degree, and start a new path toward a social work degree at Arizona State University.
But being first-generation, Emily wasn’t sure how to navigate the university system. That’s where her SVdP Scholarship Program mentor, Claudia, really helped.
“She gave me a lot of life advice. Her being a first-generation [student and] Hispanic woman, she knew where I came from and my cultural background,” said Emily, who grew up in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix and is the first of her two siblings to pursue higher education. “That had to do a lot with our strong connection.”
Emily began to thrive academically and started volunteering through the SVdP Scholarship Program. She served in SVdP’s Resource Center for people experiencing homelessness, where she discovered her love for helping on the frontline and formed bonds with many of the guests and staff.
“The more that you volunteer, the more you enjoy it,” she said. “I fell in love with the connections I was making with clients and just people in general.”
She next chose to complete an internship at Ozanam Manor, where she could see a different kind of process in helping people exit homelessness and regain housing.
"I just saw this huge amount of growth from spring to fall [during her internship],” Ozanam Manor Director Julia Matthies said. “She kind of hit the ground running, was looking for more things to do and had a lot of initiative.”
When Emily graduated in 2022, the first place she applied to was SVdP’s Ozanam Manor to be a case manager.
“It was easy for me to see how she fit with both the residents and the staff and the culture at St. Vincent de Paul,” Julia said
“The more I'm here, the more I want to give to my clients,” Emily said. “And the people are so kind, always welcoming…I just love seeing people and the joy on their face when they see that you help them.”
Emily embodies the positive aspects of the SVdP Scholarship Program that transforms lives one scholar at a time.
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