Ariaceliz Ortiz, who earned her MSW from Rutgers School of Social Work, made a gift in memory of her father, Felix Ortiz Pizarro. Despite only receiving an elementary-level education, Felix Ortiz Pizarro instilled in his children a love of learning and a passion for serving others. Ortiz shares the story of her
journey to social work and how establishing the award helped her cope with her father’s untimely death.
Why did you choose to study social work?
Ariaceliz Ortiz: As an undergraduate student studying sociology and criminal justice, one of my professors suggested I consider continuing my studies in social work. She encouraged me to apply to the School of Social Work’s MSW program, and I was accepted. I chose to complete my courses in Newark where I could be close to my family.
What did you do after you received your MSW?
AO: I began working in outpatient mental health and an involuntary short-term care facility – an involuntary psych unit – at a local hospital. I also started volunteering with the Northern New Jersey Trauma Recovery Network and have continued to volunteer for them. One of my specializations is EMDR for trauma. Recently, I was working with children separated from their families at the border. When families are reunited, I provide the children with trauma care. Just recently I was asked to be a part of a film documenting the experience of one of the children I work with who was separated from his family.
Where are you currently working?
AO: I am the clinical supervisor for an organization providing behavioral and mental health services for individuals, couples, and families. I’m thankful to be doing community-based work because it’s needed now more than ever. What’s interesting is I did my field work in 2006 at this organization. It’s funny how things come full circle. You never know where your internship might take you.
How do you manage to care for your family, work a full-time job, and volunteer?
AO: I balance everything with self care, and I’ve learned to say no to certain things. You have to know what you want to do and use it as your compass because you just can’t do it all. I also learned that prioritizing family and health is more important than anything. But a lot of times it’s easier said than done. We want to pay off our student loans when we’re fresh out of school, and we want to make names for ourselves and gain all the skills we can, but we have to be realistic about how much we can handle.
Why did you choose to make a gift in memory of your father last year?
AO: My father passed away very unexpectedly from a massive heart attack on January 23, 2019. It was truly a shock because he was very physically fit and loved biking and running. I made the gift as a way to honor my father as part of my healing from grief. My dad only went up to the second grade in school in Puerto Rico, but he was always big on being of service to others. Taking care of his family, friends, and neighbors was most important to him. He always said it didn’t matter what kind of degree you had, but “if you weren’t of service to others, you were wasting your time on Earth.” That’s a great quote from our Puerto Rican hero Roberto Clemente.
Who will benefit from the gift?
AO: An MSW student who demonstrates a commitment to serving others, regardless of their grades.
What advice would you give to students currently earning their MSW degrees?
AO: No matter what, go with your gut. You may get pressured in different ways in this field, but if things don’t feel right, honor that. At the end of the day, wrong is wrong – even if everyone is doing it – and right is right even if no one is doing it. When in doubt, always go back to NASW’s code of ethics and your board regulations.