Hi Y'all! It's been a while since I've introduced myself to those new to the blog and reintroduced myself to those of you have been following for a while. So here it is. An all about Vanessa and why she does the work she loves. 

My name is Vanessa Marie Flores, and I grew up in a small town (not so small anymore) near the U.S.-Mexico border called McAllen, TX. I am the youngest of three, and my older sisters don't waste any time reminding me of that. I was raised by a beautiful woman who loves to spend time keeping her nails fresh and painted and never passes up on any opportunity to go shopping. I must be her daughter. :) Although my father (technically my step-dad) came into my life when I was in sixth grade, we instantly connected through our love for the Dallas Cowboys and can liven up any party with our dry sense of humor. We're pretty much soulmates. 

We all have our stories. We all have a childhood that I believe brings us to where we are today. My childhood was not the best, and my mom was a single mom for most of my life. She did the best she could, and her best was pretty darn good. I knew early on that I wanted to help people. I had initially thought I wanted to be a teacher and then my middle sister became a teacher. But even before that, I knew I wanted to help people with their "problems" (whatever that means). Over time, I realized that what I wanted was to build individual relationships with people and get to know the essence of who they are rather than teach a class of students. I've always been better one on one although I consider myself to be an extrovert and can easily find my way through a crowd. Little did I know that I would find myself "teaching" later on in my journey. Keep reading. 

I made the trek to Texas Christian University (GO FROGS!) in Fort Worth, TX after high school graduation against my mother's will. She did not want me to be nine hours away from home. I didn't care. It was where I wanted to be, and nothing was going to stop me. I declared a major in Psychology during freshmen orientation but after taking an Intro. to Psych. class, I quickly submitted a change of major. It wasn't the professor that changed my mind. I think it was more of the content. It didn't quite speak to me in the way my Intro. to Social Work class did. One felt like experiments and science while the other screamed people! I like people so I went with it. I decided on Social Work instead, and the next four years went fast. At the end of my senior year, it was time to do it all over again. 

My love for Austin has always been real. So real that I applied to the University of Texas at Austin to obtain my Master's degree in Social Work. To my disappointment, I wasn't accepted into the program. I don't think I've ever told anyone that. Welp, I guess now I have. So, I decided to head to the University of Houston for my master's degree because I was accepted and it was in Texas. I know now that was the best decision for me. The opportunities that came within those two years paved the path for where I am today. I landed a rockstar internship at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center and was offered a full-time position before graduation working in Adult Trauma and eventually Pediatrics. I fell in love with being a medical social worker and was sure that it was where I would be forever. Well, never say never, and never say forever. Life happened, and I had to leave Houston. Anyone want to guess where I ended up? 

AUSTIN, TX! Yup. Four years after graduating undergrad, I made it to the very city I knew I was destined to be in. I began my career as the Pediatric ICU Social Worker at Dell Children's Medical Center. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am still so grateful for my time there; however, the longer I stayed at Dell, the more I realized that I couldn't do it forever. Working with chronically ill children took a tremendous emotional toll on me over the course of the 6 years I was in the medical field. The work was so powerful but I found that I was becoming numb to life and death events that I knew I wanted to feel, should feel. All of this was enough for me to let go and get curious about the world of school social work. Like I said earlier, my middle sister has been in education for a long time (about fourteen years), and I have seen her throw herself into her students and families. I wanted to know what that felt like. 

I most recently spent three years working as a high school social worker at KIPP Austin Collegiate. By the time I got this job, I had already been working on obtaining my clinical license in order to move into the world of private practice one day. Initially, I didn't really know when that "one day" would come but I was sure it would. Working in education was such a rewarding and unforgettable experience. Almost all the families I worked with were first generation, undocumented Latino families who were all working towards the same goal of supporting their children to and through college. I felt so privileged to learn their stories and be a part of their families in a way that promoted healing and success. There was a connection I shared with my students. Being of Hispanic origin and living in a low-income family while being the second in my family to go to college, I understood the challenges from all sides (financial, educational, racial). It was the best job I've ever had, and I would do it all over again if the opportunity presented itself. 

I left KIPP by choice. I spent the 2015-2016 academic school year launching my private practice part-time. It felt like the right time. I was working full-time at the school and seeing clients privately in the evenings. I began to build a clientele and things continued to pick up. By the time the school year ended, I decided to take the risk and leave KIPP to pursue private practice full-time. It was a bittersweet decision, and it's one I think about often. I'll be writing another blog post later about my journey to private practice so stay tuned for more. It's an emotional story, and it's very personal to me because I left a school full of students and families I loved. I am grateful for their support and understanding to this very day. 

Private practice hasn't been easy, but I believe that ALL people should have access to healthcare despite their economic status. I believe that I have the ability to reach a larger audience of adolescents and adults, while being able to provide pro bono and community service work, as it connects to my values. I don't know what it's like to not be able to access healthcare, and my hope is that my clients know that is not a barrier when they work with me. 

So, why do I do what I do? I do this work because every family I have worked with, every child's story that I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and every life I have touched has taught me some of the greatest lessons. My social work journey has taught me that within each of us lies a human heart; a human heart that requires love, attention, warmth, protection and compassion. It requires connection with another heart. It requires that someone be willing to listen and to hold space for silence, grief, loss and pain. We all have hearts that are aching to be loved unconditionally. I can do that. I want to do that, and it's why I'm here. I'm not here for me. I'm here for all of you.