Job loss and his own family history contributed to Michaelo Rosso-Balcazar’s dedication to completing his master’s degree in clinical psychology at Antioch University Santa Barbara.
“For me it was just a wake up call,” says Ross-Balacazar regarding the time after a period of unemployment when he discovered his job as a family advocate for those dealing with mental illness. “It touched me in a very, very personal level.”
Rosso-Balcazar, who has two family members with mental illnesses, began his education several years ago at the City College of Santa Barbara. He then went on to get a bachelor’s degree in dramatic literature from the University of California at Santa Barbara. From that point, he began writing for local newspapers and magazines. “I was doing pretty well,” he says. Then, came the economic downfall of 2008 and Rosso-Balcazar was out of work.
He was offered a rather low-paying position as a family advocate in a town nearly two hours away and accepted the offer. “I grew up not knowing that there were services available,” he says. “That would have made a big difference in my life to have support from somebody. It was my calling. The pay didn’t make a difference.” It was while working there, that a colleague recommended that he enroll at AUSB to get a master’s degree.
Rosso-Balcazar had no money to pay for tuition, but decided to visit the campus anyway. His visit was on a Thursday, and immediately he was signed up to start attending classes the following Monday. “People at AUSB said they needed more males in the field and the fact that I was bilingual was a big asset,” he says.
In fact, AUSB provided Rosso-Balcazar with financial aid that helped him immediately begin the program. Among his loans and grants, was a scholarship for Latino students. “I felt like the movie ‘Legally Blonde’ when she becomes an attorney,” laughs Rosso-Balcazar. “All of the sudden my life changed.”
After six years practicing journalism, Rosso-Balcazar, now in his mid-30s, finds his family advocacy work much more fulfilling. “It makes me more appreciative about my life, my family,” he says. I’m more in tune with myself. Now that I know that this is my passion, my job is more enjoyable.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he adds. “My job as a family advocate is intense. There’s a lot of need in this community. Just for someone to be available to listen to these families and the problems they have is huge. I have a job that is so important to the community.”
Even though Rosso-Balcazar was unfamiliar with the Antioch campus before visiting, he can’t praise it and its staff enough. “I recommend AUSB to a lot of people,” he says. “The people who work there are passionate about what they do. They care for people and that is very important.”
Not long after starting the AUSB program, Rosso-Balcazar received a much better paying job offer from the Santa Barbara Mental Health Association, which is located a block away from the college. Now he walks to work and to his classes, from his house that is only four blocks away. He looks optimistically ahead to 2011 when he’ll earn his master’s degree. “After commuting every day, I now live, work and attend school on Garden Street,” he says. “My life is a garden now.”