ATLANTA — Erica Mondragon (B.S.W. ’22) shares her personal story as a caregiver at an early age — and as the middle child in an undocumented immigrant family dealing with substance abuse, recovery and medical issues — to show others what is possible.
“I’m an open book,” Mondragon said. “Social work has taught me that accountability and openness are better than being closed off. It helps to know when you’re a bystander or can do something to make a change. After years of being a bystander to substance abuse, I want to help those who suffer from it.”
At age 10, Mondragon accompanied her mother to day-long cancer treatments, serving as her translator and support system.
“I was always that main support my family needed,” she said. “When I was a child, I thought it would have been great to have someone there with me, to help me, even though I was with my dad or mom, brother or sister. I would have been grateful for a social worker to help me navigate, regulate and cope with my emotions.”
As a high school senior, Mondragon went to a counselor to discuss her family’s issues.
“She would ask me about my future prospects, and where I’d be going to college,” Mondragon said. “Going to college seemed out of my range given the things I was dealing with at home. I was just trying to graduate from high school. She took it a step further and asked me about my dreams.”
Mondragon realized she wanted to help people.
“I wanted to be a social worker,” she said. “Encountering social workers in rehab facilities who were helping my loved ones, it was the first time I’d seen social work as a profession.”
Mondragon started in the psychology program at Georgia Gwinnett College, then transferred to Georgia State for her B.S.W. She will join the Master of Social Work program at Kennesaw State University this fall, after which she plans to get her license and go into casework. Her field placement at Georgia Hope, a foster care and adoption agency in Conyers, Ga., helped lead her to the MSW.
“I did a lot of research for my field placement, coming to it from my experience,” she said. “When I was younger, my parents told us we could be taken away from them. They used foster care more as a warning. As I got older, I realized my parents could be taken away, so I became interested in foster care and what it looked like. Case management and working with the agency gave me a whole different perspective.”
Mondragon’s plans will take her full circle. “With an LCSW, I can work in hospitals, rehabs and recovery centers with children and teens who have addiction problems,” she said. “I’m aiming for things I really want to change — a new way of being one-on-one with families and people who have these problems.”
At home, Mondragon’s mom continues to battle cancer, her siblings are doing better, and her father supports her the best way he can.
“Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “Everyone’s looks different.”
Photo by Steven Thackston