Article Published: 6/29/2023
After being named an NBCC doctoral counseling Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) Fellow in 2021, Pamela Fullerton, MA, MEd, NCC, LCPC, CCTP, C-DBT, attended a meeting where there was discussion about the importance of government-funded programs to help counselors-in-training. Fullerton, who has worked with the Latinx population for over 20 years, began thinking about a specific population close to her heart that is ineligible for this type of support—undocumented individuals.
“The Latinx population is the largest immigrant population in the United States and has the most undocumented individuals as well,” Fullerton says. “My passion for supporting this community runs deep, as a second-generation immigrant myself, and as a Latina, this is very personal for me.
“One of my specialty areas is working with and supporting the undocumented community, so I know about the various barriers they face, including not being able to receive social services and government funding,” she continues.
There are currently more than 427,000 undocumented students enrolled in postsecondary education, according to an analysis by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and New American Economy. After giving it some thought, Fullerton came up with the unique idea to create an NBCC Foundation Giving Circle to raise funds to provide a scholarship for an undocumented graduate student studying counseling or counselor education.
“I thought that creating a giving circle might be a way to throw our support behind this community and show them that we need them in this profession, and we are willing to support them through their educational and professional journey.”
While attending the 2021 ACES Conference, she met Diana Gallardo, PhD, NCC, also a 2021 MFP Fellow, and Kirsis Dipre, PhD, NCC, LPC, a 2020 MFP Fellow. Dr. Gallardo is an assistant professor of counselor education at Northeastern Illinois University and Dr. Dipre serves as a core faculty in the Counseling@Northwestern program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Right away, the three Latina counselors realized they shared a vision and made an “immediate connection,” Fullerton says.
“I pitched my idea to them, and they were just as excited and passionate to join me in advocating for this giving circle.” Fullerton, a former English teacher who enjoys the writing of Langston Hughes, was inspired by a line from the poet’s “Harlem” when considering a name for the circle: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
“And the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would help undocumented immigrants get a pathway to citizenship in this country, has been delayed for 20 years,” she adds. “It was time to change the narrative. The name ‘A Dream Decided’ was our way of saying undocumented counselors-in-training do not have to wait. Support is here, so go after your dream.”
Together in December 2021, the counselors launched the NBCCF Giving Circle with the goal of raising $8,000 for one scholarship. Today, A Dream Decided has received nearly half that amount in donations.
Members of the Latinx population face many barriers to mental health care and the need is great, Fullerton says.
“The barriers are multilayered and systemic. I can assure you, this is not a cultural issue, so let’s not pathologize the culture,” she says. “This is an intergenerational, historical, migratory, and racialized trauma issue. This is an issue of lack of access to medical and mental health services issue. This is sometimes a language barrier issue. This is sometimes a socioeconomic issue. This is sometimes an acculturative issue. This is sometimes a sociopolitical issue. We cannot point to just one issue, but rather, the system to support marginalized and racial ethnic minority communities has failed and in doing so, lets down this group of individuals.”
The response to the giving circle has been inspirational, she adds.
“At the most recent NBCC conference in Atlanta, I had an attendee tell me she started to cry when she heard about this scholarship because she finally felt seen,” Fullerton says. “She has struggled to find funding because of her status, and learning about this scholarship made her feel supported and connected to this profession even more.”
Advocacy is at the heart of a counselor’s work, and there are many ways to help.
“Making a donation will support our mission as professional counselors and our calling as human beings, to give back, to be a part of the common good, and to support our fellow peers,” Fullerton says, adding that “We want our fellow counselors to know that they can support this endeavor in two ways: They can donate, AND they can send the scholarship information to their networks as well. The more people that can donate, the quicker we can get to our $8,000 goal and finally offer the scholarship to deserving students.”
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