Giving a voice to the voiceless

Graduate social work student Jorge Saldaña’s passion for helping the underprivileged is being showcased through his work in public policy and counseling.

Oct. 13, 2023

Jorge Saldaña understands the importance of advocacy, particularly as it relates to critically underserved populations.

Saldaña grew up in Garden City, Kansas, a rural community of nearly 28,000 people — more than 50% of whom have Hispanic or Latino origins. He frequently served as a translator for his Mexican immigrant parents, who lacked formal education and were adjusting to a completely different culture in the U.S.

“At age five, my English was a bridge between my family and the world,” Saldaña said. “It was one of those situations where ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ But I didn’t look at it that way when I was growing up. I just knew it was my job to translate at the bank or the grocery store or during parent-teacher conferences.”

After receiving an undergraduate degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, he spent more than a decade working in Chicago and Kansas City. Eventually, he felt drawn back to his hometown. Saldaña is currently in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at MU, completing the degree online while working full time for a Head Start agency in Garden City.

His pertinent life experiences and passion for helping others are part of the reason he recently was awarded the 2023-24 Gosnell Scholarship by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation, which awards the $4,000 scholarship to about 10 MSW candidates annually. He also recently received a $10,000 grant through Mizzou’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program for Professionals. Saldaña said the extra funding will help him make ends meet financially during his advanced practicum work in spring 2024.

While Saldaña hasn’t lined up his practicum placement just yet, he said he hopes to connect with a community health agency — possibly offering therapy to children in local school systems.

“Jorge has a strong background in public policy and advocacy,” said Erin Robinson, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and MSW program director. “He has been able to bring his experiences and passion for creating grassroots change to the classroom to create a rich learning environment. He is thoughtful about his education and where his career trajectory will lead him.”

Although he has another year left in the MSW program, Saldaña is already looking ahead to how he can make a difference in the lives of underserved groups. He intends to provide counseling after graduating from Mizzou and work toward his social work license. He is also looking for opportunities to make a difference on a more macro level by drawing from his background in public policy.

“I would love to engage in legislative advocacy by organizing communities, meeting with legislators, holding people in power accountable, helping working-class people organize to make our voice heard,” Saldaña said. “Working-class people need representation, and I would be privileged for an opportunity like that — humbled to be the voice of my community.”

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