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Bridging the Gap for Children of Puerto Rico

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During Mónica Rodríguez’s first year as a doctoral student in 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. As a bilingual counselor who has specialized training in play therapy, Rodríguez immediately joined a team of therapists through her connections at the University of North Texas, where she studies, to provide a three-day disaster relief play therapy training for mental health professionals in Puerto Rico.

In 2018, Rodríguez helped provide a training for 18 mental health professionals from Puerto Rico in Dallas. Rodríguez shares, “The participants reported loving the training and spoke of their need for further play therapy training and supervision. By this time, I had been thinking of applying for the NBCC Minority Fellowship Program and knew that if I received the award, part of the money was going to be used for an intensive play therapy training, supervision, and micro-practicum in Puerto Rico. Once I found out that I received the award, I immediately asked Dr. [Peggy] Ceballos if she was interested in providing the training with me in Puerto Rico.” 

Fast forward to 2019, and now as a Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) Doctoral Fellow, Rodríguez recently used her own connections and monetary resources to provide an intensive weeklong play therapy training, micro-practicum, and supervision for 20 Puerto Rican mental health professionals, just a few weeks before the first of many recent devastating earthquakes hit the island. Rodríguez purchased play therapy books, culturally appropriate play therapy toys, and airline tickets to fly a team of therapists to conduct trainings that would ultimately benefit the children and families of some of the hardest hit areas in Yauco y Cantera in Ponce, Puerto Rico.  

In order to include supervision and a micro-practicum component to the training for their most recent trip, Rodríguez explained that she and her professor, Dr. Peggy Ceballos, needed more supervisory assistance. They recruited two additional doctoral students from the University of North Texas, who also have MFP connections. Ana Guadalupe Reyes received the MFP Doctoral award in 2017, and Jose “Joey” Tapia-Fuslier, is a 2019 MFP Doctoral award recipient along with Rodríguez. The newly formed team collaborated with Dr. Zulmarie Hernández and Dr. José Luis Castro Borrero from La Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico to hold the training, and they were able to leave six portable play therapy kits for the university to check out to students or professionals in the area as needed. Each participant in the training also received their own play therapy book in Spanish.

Upon leaving Puerto Rico in December 2019, Rodríguez and her fellow trainers had no idea the immediate impact their recent visit would have on children and families in some of the most devastated areas as the first of many earthquakes hit on Dec. 28, 2019. Rodríguez continues receiving text messages and emails from those they trained letting her know of the incredible resource these therapists have been for the hardest hit communities of Ponce.

Just a few days ago, she received another call from their main contact in Puerto Rico saying that six participants from the training would be providing play therapy at camps for children who were impacted by the earthquakes using the kits they provided. Rodríguez shares, “As heartbroken as I was about the news of the earthquakes, I am also hopeful that many of their mental health professionals are able to have the skills and materials to provide children a place to begin their healing process.”

Along with being an advocate for the children of Puerto Rico, Rodríguez, President of the University of North Texas Counselors for Social Justice, and her fellow classmates work to impact their local community as well. Their organization “promotes social justice and advocacy for our students and surrounding communities.” Through their yearly conference, in collaboration with the Rho Kappa chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, they provide trainings and workshops on topics related to social justice and leadership to students and mental health professionals in Denton, Texas, and surrounding cities. Recently, members worked with another local organization to provide preparedness workshops for undocumented families to help them create a safety plan in the event that they face deportation or other legal proceedings.

No matter the challenges, Rodríguez, like many of her MFP predecessors and current fellows, will advocate for those around her with persistence, compassion, and commitment to those she chooses to serve each day.

Rodríguez has set up an Amazon Wish List that includes toys and materials that will directly benefit the children of Puerto Rico. If you are interested in learning more about helping with her efforts, please contact Mónica Rodríguez at MonicaRodriguez@my.unt.edu.



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