Celebrating the Heroes of our Wellness Network
Categories: Advocacy, Reproductive Justice, SBHCs, Teen pregnancy prevention, Uncategorized, Wellness Centers
Spotlight: Melissa Bernabe
What do you do? How did you get started in this field?
I am a Substance Abuse Counselor, Family Planning Counselor, and HIV Tester/ Counselor at ViaCare Community Health clinic. I was fortunate to begin this work early in my short life by entering the family planning world as a peer to peer educator in high school. I explored and expanded my interests in family planning, the LGBT community, working in domestic violence, education, and working with youth at UC Santa Barbara. There I received my degree in Feminist Studies with an emphasis on reproductive justice and education. I also minored in LGBT studies with an emphasis on Queer people of color and Transgender identity. Within that minor, I was a part of a special projects course in which we created our own curriculum on an LGBT topic of our choice and then went into local high schools throughout Santa Barbara county to teach that curriculum. My course was on transgender identity, homelessness, and allyship. While in school I also worked on the campus women’s center, which was primarily an interpersonal violence advocacy office for students and staff. After graduation, I had the privilege to work for Planned Parenthood and was eventually led to ViaCare where I am today.
What do you enjoy/what are the challenges of working with youth?
As an adult ally, I love their energy, excitement, and curiosity. Our Student Advisory Board (SAB) members amaze me with their positivity and uplifting spirits. As a counselor, the best part of working with youth is to watch a student take charge of their reproductive health by coming into the center and asking questions, requesting more information, and then attending their appointments. By taking this initiative, they are going against familial and societal pressure to abstain from these services. Therefore, the bravery they display to make these choices for themselves, and to then take action to enforce them despite those obstacles amazes and inspires me daily. They are severely underestimated, which is an immense disservice to the community and to student betterment as well.
The biggest challenge I’ve experienced is changing student pregnancy discourse from inevitable to preventable. Our primarily latino/a student demographic culturally views pregnancy as routine and most commonly, something that should not be prevented with “unnatural substances.” Parents express that they would assume responsibility for the child or greatly contribute aid if unintended pregnancy were to occur, so long as an abortion is not performed. These ideologies then do not leave many options for the youth, which contributes to the general indifference they express and eliminates the need for birth control or STD testing. Working with these preconceived notions makes it challenging to navigate, prioritize, and develop methods to assist a student with their reproductive life plan. SAB members have also expressed these challenges in regards to raising student interest during the STD Campaigns on campus and with speaking with fellow students.
What are you looking forward to in terms of the work with The L.A. Trust (events, grants, future projects)?
Now that we have an established group for our Student Advisory Board, I’m looking forward to continuing the progress we have made with student engagement and interest. I am excited to then have SAB students join the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and represent Garfield proudly in the Y2Y conference with The L.A. Trust. I’m very proud of the campaigns they’ve done thus far, and as the students acknowledge the challenges they faced, they used it to make the necessary changes to develop and execute better campaigns as the school year progresses. I’m looking forward to utilizing more of the campaign resources The L.A. Trust offers and to incorporate students into more of The L.A. Trust events that occur outside of their school territory.
What do you think is needed to achieve that vision/goal?
I think that the underlying key for future success in achieving those goals is for the SAB to have a strong, consistent presence on campus. This can only be done with consistent efforts and time. But once the SAB is as established as some of the other popular clubs on campus there will be less time devoted to recruitment and more time spent on developing campaigns and events. With more time to plan campaigns, there is also more time to allocate proper use of The L.A.Trust resources such as trainings and special programs.
Favorite words of inspiration/favorite quote?
“And Still, I’ll rise.” Maya Angelou