Ricardo Rodriguez

Delivering Emotional Paydays

When Ricardo was only eight months old, his family came to the United States from Mexico City. As he grew up, Ricardo's mother always told him and his siblings, "Get an education, because that is something no one can take from you." She herself had a master's degree in elementary education and had advocated for education while living in Mexico.

Although he valued education, Ricardo wasn't really interested in studying in high school. He started working as an automotive technician and loved the opportunity the job gave him to solve complex problems. "I didn't want to be one of those technicians who just got dirty all day long," he says. "I wanted to be the guy who figured out the root issues." But he always remembered his mother's advice to get more education.

While working as an automotive technician, Ricardo volunteered as a mediator for Latino at-risk students and spent time as a youth coach. These experiences served as a catalyst for him to find something greater in his life. Eventually, he moved on from his career as an automotive technician and started servicing industrial machinery at a large manufacturing facility. The pay was good, but he still felt a longing to do more. "I've always had a love for psychology," he says. "I felt like I had to serve a higher calling to help people. I wanted to contribute to the community at a higher level."

Ricardo decided to go back to school at Utah Valley University to become a licensed clinical social worker, specializing in addiction recovery. But as he returned to school, life presented him with additional challenges. He was working longer hours at his job, and his mother got sick and eventually passed away. But his mother's counsel coupled with his wife and children's encouragement served as the ultimate motivation for him to take on the seemingly impossible task of finishing school.

"My family has endured quite a bit not having me around," says Ricardo, "Yet my two young girls have benefited from watching their father do his homework, and they and my wife tell me how proud they are of me. We have all felt the strain and weight of this sacrifice, and I could not have done this without them."

After studying his options, Ricardo decided to apply for a scholarship, which would allow him to reduce his work hours and focus on his education without neglecting family and financial obligations.

When he found out he had received the scholarship, he was overjoyed. "I was elated and humbled," he says. "I thought, someone is taking pity on this old man." With the extra financial support, Ricardo is finishing his degree in behavioral science early and preparing to enter the field immediately.

As part of his coursework, Ricardo has spent many hours as an unpaid intern at a residential substance abuse treatment facility. His mother had helped him realize he had a higher calling to fulfill; now he is helping others to do the same. "I love watching people have 'Aha' moments when they realize how much value and potential they really have after they've been told the opposite for their whole lives," he says. "There is a lot gained in those moments. In the industry we call it an emotional payday."

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