By Samuel Leibowitz-Lord ‘21
Every day, social workers are on the frontlines working directly with individuals and families to promote social justice and equity. Working alongside community and clinical social workers are policy specialists, whose goal is to implement socially responsible and human-centered practices on a macro level. One Rutgers School of Social Work alumna, Lisette Gudino, is developing large-scale programs to bring vital social services to thousands of individuals.
Gudino currently serves as the Program Director of Justice for All, a program under the Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs (MCOHA) – Center for Citizenship and Legal Immigration, a nonprofit organization. Justice for All is a children-focused program that provides educational as well as physical and mental health services to immigrant children and their families.
“Families and children who are immigrating from different countries need advocates who are familiar with the system in the U.S. and who can better help them navigate it, especially when there is a language barrier,” Gudino said.
Gudino herself is a second-generation immigrant. She says watching her Ecuadorian mother and Mexican father have to overcome systemic barriers to obtain basic services for their family encouraged her to enter the field of social work. Gudino received her BA in psychology and Hispanic language and literature from Boston University and went on to enroll at Rutgers School of Social Work where she earned a Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in Management and Policy (MAP). Her degree also focused on two areas of emphasis: Global Social Work and the Latino/a Initiatives for Service, Training, and Assessment (LISTA).
Gudino’s original goal had been to attend law school after earning her BA, but she had to put those plans on hold due to financial obligations. She instead took several professional development courses at Rutgers, which introduced her to the idea of implementing social work policies on a governmental level.
“I began to see a different path towards advocating for other individuals and ensuring that their basic human needs are met. While at the same time, I could also work towards policy changes that impact the lives of families and individuals like my parents and empower them to live better lives,” Gudino said.
The initial plan and funding for Justice for All came about in a Rutgers graduate classroom. Gudino recounted how a room full of students, educators, and financiers collaborated to create a program focused on aiding families and their children through the complexities of the immigration system. Gudino described the precarious position many immigrant families find themselves in, as language and financial barriers keep them out of health, education, and employment programs designed for the country’s most vulnerable.
Gudino will continue to build and grow Justice for All, as she has seen firsthand what dedication and proper policy implementation can do for families and children. In the meantime, Gudino says she is continuing to explore options for law school or a doctorate in social work so she can work even more directly with policy implementation.
“Overall, social workers are agents for change, and it is also our duty to develop and support policies that help to address the needs of the families and children who are impacted by the immigration process at every level,” Gudino said.