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In community college, Graciela Alvarez wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
“I have always been into sports. The human body fascinates me,” she said. “I started off in sports medicine, but then heard a presentation about therapeutic recreation and I thought, that’s perfect. I get to put recreation and helping people together.”
Alvarez says that participating in sports, dance and the arts helped her gain confidence and become more social.
“When I was younger, I was very shy. Sports really helped me step out of my bubble. And, not just for me. I tried coaching junior high and high school students and could see the difference it made in others,” she said.
“Therapeutic recreation is something I really believe in,” she said.
Drawing on the military experience
Now a junior Arizona State University’s School of Community Resources and Development, Alvarez took two years off and joined the military. This is her first semester back.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet people from different parts of the country, different parts of the world – giving me experience working with people and how best to interact with them.”
It also opened up another door.
“We work with a lot of veterans in therapeutic recreation. Being military, I see their side,” she said. “Just like in any situation, it probably helps me to relate to the other individual and maybe helps them to open up.”
Alvarez still participates in the National Guard one weekend a month.
In addition to gaining skills like time management, learning leadership styles, Alvarez says she is part of a team.
“I feel like there is a view that the military is hard on people, but it is just like a normal workplace. Everyone is just trying to do their best,” she said.
“Being a Mexican female and going into the military was hard. My father didn’t actually agree with it but I told him I knew it was for the best for me. Now I have his full support and that of my whole family,” she said.
Gaining hands-on experience
Working with veterans is one area of interest, but Alvarez says she is still exploring.
Through a job with ENC Services, she is paired with a family and works with a child with disabilities.
“My work is respite, so taking the child out and having fun. This child loves basketball, which is what I grew up with so it is a perfect match. We go to the park; sometimes I try to see if there are people who will play games with us to bring in the social element,” she said.
“It has been a good experience – I realize I love working with that community. Every day when I get off of work I know I did something good in a child’s life,” she said.