25 June 2022

My journey

Written by: Clara Hernandez

If I had been asked at the beginning of the year if I would have ever imagined the possibility of interning with US Fish and Wildlife, my response would have probably been, huh? That huh would have been emphasized with the same confusion someone would have had today, June 24th, 2022, if they would have been asked if they would have thought it was possible for Roe v. Wade to be reversed after 50 years.

For many reasons, I knew at the start of 2022 that although I had progressively achieved every goal I set for myself both academically and professionally, something was missing.

I left my former employment in March of this year after devoting so much of myself to my roles in the Human and Social Services industry as a leader, a mentor, and an avid advocate. I felt I needed to ground myself and focus on what was truly important to me; which at that moment was my graduate degree. After having worked with some of the most vulnerable populations in the country, through a pandemic surged by misguidance and plenty insecurities, it resonated with me that I needed to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health. I yearned to further my education which, for years, I found myself putting second to the self-appointed and psychological responsibilities of being the eldest child of three to a single parent.

Ironically enough, or maybe not so ironic, my mother became a single parent 21 years ago on June 24th, 2001, after losing the love of her life and the father of her three children, to mental illness. I also graduated high school on June 24th, 2015.  Ironic or not, just like all the previous June 24ths of the last 20 years of my life, this one will always be memorable. As I sit and reflect on what the opportunity to intern for Hispanic Access Foundation at the Patuxent Research Refuge has meant to me and done for me both mentally and spiritually, I could not be any more grateful.

In just three weeks, I have grown in ways that I do not think would have been possible in any other type of environment. By learning the value of caring for, protecting, and preserving the natural resources that make up our ecosystem, I am creating authentic opportunities to become a better educator, community field worker, public servant, and leader. Needless to say, I have met some incredible mentors, intelligent admirable professionals, and have received exceptional advice. Mike Goldberg, a lifelong educator and volunteer at Patuxent Research Refuge, said to me earlier, "Clara, the journey is just as if not more important than the destination" and my response was, "You know Mike, I believe we were supposed to meet today". Perhaps he did not understand the depth of my response to him in that moment, but his words will stay with me a lifetime. I have participated in balancing acts that have both challenged me to face some of my biggest fears and insecurities as well as filled that void, the one I mentioned prior. What am I looking forward to? I am looking forward to being a voice for those that struggle to be heard, understood, and to lead the way for others who look like me; who come from mental, emotional, financial, and social adversity. Why? So that hopefully they never feel less than but rather disserving of being in any room that they have earned the merit to be in.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Location: Patuxent NWR

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Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

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