Ruby Naranjo, a first gen graduate student has found her niche in helping underprivileged children as a social worker.
Ruby Naranjo lives in Otay Mesa, where she was raised in a family of six siblings by her father, a construction worker, and a homemaker mother. All of the siblings played soccer and her mother volunteered in their schools. The family was getting by okay when things changed drastically.
Naranjo, fifth in the pecking order, was 13 and her oldest sibling was 18 when her father was deported. This had a huge emotional and financial impact on the family. Her mother found work washing dishes in a restaurant, and her oldest brother stepped in to help by working multiple part-time jobs.
The family learned how to make things work in their new reality.
“Once dad was deported and mom was working a lot, it was hard finding rides and logistics to get to school and activities,” Naranjo said. “But mom always made sure we kept up with our activities. I always wonder how she did it. There are six of us. But she managed.”
More than 10 years later, Naranjo is now a graduate student pursuing her masters in social work. She has persisted in overcoming odds and going after goals, all while working 34 hours a week at two jobs while taking three classes at San Diego State University.
Naranjo was the first in her family to graduate from college. She completed her bachelor’s in social work also at SDSU, when she was a commuter student with a long commute to and from Otay Mesa via bus and trolley.
“I was lost initially because I was first in my family to actually go to a university. People would tell me ‘join a club or organization’ but my commute was so long and I just wanted to get home before dark,” said Naranjo, who now has a car and enjoys being part of the Graduate Social Work Association on campus.
Focus on underserved children
Naranjo works part-time for Autism Comprehensive Education Services (ACES) in Chula Vista, a private organization that offers home therapy for children with autism.
She also secured an internship with Lead and Learn from the Heart, a program at Rosa Parks Elementary school in San Diego’s the City Heights neighborhood, where social workers and interns work on providing socio-emotional learning during recess. Naranjo typically works with the kindergarten and fourth and fifth grade classes.
“We play games like Simon Says, museum statues, and affirmations which are easy to learn and fun,” Naranjo said. “We focus on empathy, and check in with them. With schools reopening, we talk to them about it and the changes in their life”.
“One area I focused on is bullying and cyberbullying,” she added. “I want them to be safe. They each spoke about times they were bullied, and so we talked about how to cope if it happens again.”
She said the most rewarding part of her work is being able to talk to the students at a critical time. Focusing on empathy and how to endure changes throughout life, Naranjo enjoys being a support system and role model for her students.
“My fourth grade groups don’t like to let me go at the end of the period.”
Education was always emphasized in Naranjo’s family as a child. Her mother was an active parent volunteer and she and her siblings taught their father how to write.
Long hours, supportive mentors and family
Naranjo has a somewhat brutal schedule: She works 20 hours weekly at the City Heights internship, 14 hours at ACES, and graduate course work takes up another nine hours, all amid continuing responsibilities at home.
Naranjo credited social work lecturer Jennifer Cosio who supervised her undergraduate internship with helping her find her niche.
“We would report back to her and she would give us perspective about the work we got to do. She saw a part of me that I didn’t see — my ability to be a leader. She would lead me with questions about how I was helping other interns and she saw something in me and encouraged me.”
Today, Naranjo has inspired her family to follow in her footsteps. Her sister has now graduated from California State University, Chico, and one of her brothers has an associates degree.
“Without my family I would not have been able to do all of this. My brothers took turns helping me and the family. They told my sister and I not to worry about working, to focus on college.”
Naranjo plans to continue her hard work and dedicate her time to working with children. She enjoys how funny and sweet they are, and how “they tell you everything with very little encouragement. I’ve always liked helping others.”
Empathy is a driving force behind Naranjo’s love for helping others. By living and learning through her own hardships, she continues to help others through theirs.