Claudia Hernandez at the new El Centro construction site

News & Features

Monday, June 16, 2014

In May of 2014, Claudia Hernandez earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Northeastern Illinois University. It was the first major step in realizing her lifelong goal of becoming a social worker—a goal born from tragedy.

When she was just seven years old, Claudia’s father passed away unexpectedly. “My father’s death made me a sensitive child,” Hernandez said. “I remember crying in bed every night and out of nowhere in my second-grade class. For that reason I was referred to the school social worker. Her help during that time motivated me to become a social worker.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Claudia was heavily involved in her local church during her time at J. Sterling Morton West High School. “I saw the issues of the people in my church and realized that they needed someone to talk to. That pushed me even further toward my goal.” 

Claudia enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University El Centro in 2007 and participated in the Guidance Inspiration and Academic Support (GUIAS) Peer Mentoring Program. During her sophomore year, she became a mentor in the program and, for four years, helped guide new El Centro students through the transition to college. “I was very influenced by my advisors in the program, and then I was able to influence my mentees,” Hernandez said. “It was like a little chain.”

In addition to her time spent as a mentor, Hernandez completed her field experience at Corazon Community Services in Cicero. “I was working in an after-school program with seventh and eighth graders, providing them counsel and empowering them to serve in the community and help other kids,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez’s work as a mentor in GUIAS and as a social worker at Corazon Community Services confirmed that she was doing what she was destined to do. She plans to pursue her master’s degree in social work—and to continue to empower others to help themselves. After all, she understands how profoundly one person can help.