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Student’s pilot program brings positive role models to East LA

From left, Master of Social Work students Montserrat Gallardo, Dulce Acosta, Ronnie Fernandez, Marcos Martinez and Julio Martinez mentor high school students as part of the Sons of Troy program.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, Master of Social Work student Ronnie Fernandez didn’t see many positive role models, specifically young, educated Latino men and women.

So last year, he started a mentorship program called Sons of Troy with the goal of teaching students what he wishes he could have learned from successful Latinos in his own community.

After partnering with Garfield High School for the initial eight-session pilot program, Sons of Troy will be mentoring students at three high schools this fall. Fernandez solicited the USC School of Social Work, Men in Social Work Caucus, Garfield High alumni and community leaders to help mentees learn a variety of skills, including effective communication, the budgeting of money and dealing with personal challenges, such as anxiety and self-doubt.

“In East LA, everything is visual,” said Fernandez, a second-year student in community organization, planning and administration. “When you act or speak like you are educated, they consider you a sellout. We want to help these kids understand that the more education you have, the less bias you have.”

To add more value to the program, Fernandez plans on bringing in guest speakers, such as financial literacy community liaisons from Pan American Bank, the oldest Latino community bank in East Los Angeles. The speakers are alumni of the School of Social Work.

“We’re bringing more structure this year, but I still want everyone to gain more knowledge first and foremost,” he said. “As community members, we have to lead the program. My goal is to create something that is going to last by trying to create facilitators for other community members and alumni.”

To ensure the program’s longevity, Sons of Troy has expanded its network by building relationships with community organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of America and various YMCAs.

Clinical Associate Professor Sam Mistrano, who said Fernandez demonstrated concern for his local community from the first day of his social welfare class, challenged him to get involved.

“Ronnie came to our school with that passion and has been eager to learn and practice that learning,” Mistrano said. “Ronnie’s work as a professional will surely grow. Today, it’s mentoring students at Garfield High School. Tomorrow, it will be as mayor of the new city of East Los Angeles.”

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