He has connected Latinx men living with HIV to crucial resources as a case manager for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. He has created an intervention to improve the well-being of his clients at La Alianza Hispana, a community-based organization that provides culturally and linguistically appropriate services to the Latinx community in Boston. And he has completed his first year as a member of Boston College School of Social Work’s Latinx Leadership Initiative, a cohort-based program that prepares bilingual and bicultural social workers to work effectively with Latinx communities across the country.
Now Josue Velasquez Higueros has received a $4,000 scholarship from the National Association of Social Workers Foundation for his long-standing commitment to working with the Latinx population.
The rising second-year student in BCSSW’s clinical program is one of just 10 MSW students to be honored with a 2023-2024 Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship, an award named for a Native American social worker who dedicated her career to improving conditions for under-served Native Americans and Latinxs in the Southwest.
“It is an honor to receive the recognition,” said Velasquez Higueros, who studies in the Latinx Communities field of practice. “I know that the scholarship is competitive, so I am extremely thankful that the NASW Foundation saw in my application not only something special, but also my lifetime commitment to the Hispanic and Latinx population.”
His interest in serving the Latinx community dates back to his childhood, when he immigrated from Guatemala to Southern California. As a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program established by President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect young people from deportation, Velasquez Higueros said that he feels obligated to help less fortunate Latinx immigrants achieve their full potential.
“I feel humbled and extremely lucky to be able to represent my family, the Hispanic community, and immigrants wherever I go,” he said.
After graduating from the University of California Irvine in 2016, he spent several years working to address the health and well-being of Latinx communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He focused specifically on the LGBTQ+ community, connecting Latinx men and transgender women to medical care, emergency housing, and mental health services.
Velasquez Higueros said he chose BCSSW for the chance to work with older adults in the Latinx community, a population that is near and dear to his heart. His grandmother died of dementia, he said. His mother, now an older adult who grew up on the Guatemala-Mexico border, often struggles to access the resources she needs to thrive.
“I feel humbled and extremely lucky to be able to represent my family, the Hispanic community, and immigrants wherever I go.”
“I see the need to help older adults navigate the system. There’s a lot of need for resources,” he said. “We really need more people, specifically social workers, to help guide them and help them age in place where they feel comfortable and supported.”
As a member of BCSSW’s 2022-2023 Spier Fellows in Aging Program, Velasquez Higueros had the opportunity to complete a field placement aimed at preparing him to serve Latinx clients aged 65 and up. He created an eight-session intervention to improve the mental health of his older clients at La Alianza Hispana, designing sessions focused on topics such as boosting self-esteem, grieving the loss of a loved one, and living a life of purpose.
“The program director noticed that there was so much improvement in their moods and their mental health after the intervention,” he said. “They seemed happier. They were more excited.”
Velasquez Higueros said his professors in the LLI program have encouraged him to express his authentic self as he pursues the intersection of older adults and the Latinx community. He said he enjoys art and has found several ways to incorporate his creativity into his academic work. As part of a project for Re-thinking Diversity: Systems of Oppression and Privilege, he created a child-sized version of La Catrina, the festive symbol of the Day of the Dead. His version of the immortal icon is now on display in the office of Rocío Calvo, the founding director of the LLI.
“This project fed my creative spirit,” said Velasquez Higueros, who has also designed a quilt to honor the memory of older adults who have positively impacted BCSSW students. “It allowed me to think of ageism beyond the realms of academia. And it left me with the lasting impact that, like ageism, all biases are fragile and we have the capacity to deconstruct them.”
Velasquez Higueros said his scholarship from the NASW Foundation has solidified his belief that he can play a key role in improving the lives of people in the Latinx community, including older adults and members of the LGBTQ+ population.
He imagined what the selection committee was thinking when he was picked to receive the scholarship: “Yes, Josue. We believe in you and your dreams. Let us give you that extra little push.”