Coworker Corner: Mayra Zavala
Mayra Zavala always knew that she wanted to work with young people. When she started college, the only way she knew how to do that was by pursuing a degree in criminal justice and working with juveniles. But, upon discovering Mercy Home, her entire career path changed.
After graduating undergrad with a degree in criminal justice, Mayra wasn’t sure what her next steps should be. Hoping to get some inspiration, she went to a career fair where she happened upon Mercy Home’s booth. They were recruiting for MercyWorks, our volunteer year-of-service program. She was immediately intrigued.
“I’m from the South Side of Chicago, and I felt like growing up, I could have definitely gone on a not so great path,” she said. “So I wanted to do something to give back to the community and give back to kids who were in similar situations as I was.”
Mayra decided to apply, and was chosen to be one of MercyWorkers in 2015. And that’s where her Mercy Home journey began.
Mayra’s year in MercyWorks was one of learning, she remembered. With her background in criminal justice, she realized that her viewpoint differed a lot from the other community members. But instead of that being a problem, she embraced the opportunity to learn from others.
“I feel like criminal justice is typically very punitive,” she said. “So when talking to [the others], especially the youth care workers who were working direct care, we had different opinions. I think they lovingly challenged me a lot, which was great and helped me develop different skills and understanding things in a very different, more therapeutic way.”
After having what she described as a great experience in MercyWorks, Mayra was thrilled to be offered a full-time position as a youth care worker in Walgreen Home, working with our high-school-aged girls. This was the position she held in MercyWorks as well, and she was excited to continue working with the girls.
I like the intentionality behind planning for each kid and for each family, because not every single situation is the same.So I love the fact that we’re able to provide that.
After over three years in Walgreen Home, Mayra decided that she wanted to receive her master’s degree in social work—something inspired by her work with our kids.
“I [originally] thought that the only route [to work with youth] was through criminal justice and working with kids in juvie,” she explained. “That still interests me, but it just interests me in a different way. [Now I want to] provide restorative justice support to kids who are struggling in any way due to family trauma or due to neighborhood trauma or things like that. So working here just really opened my eyes to a different vocation for me.”
Mayra transferred to Mercy Home’s Admissions department two years ago so that she could begin attending grad school part-time. With one year left until she receives her MSW, she’s excited for the opportunities that will open for her. One option is becoming a clinician in Admissions, because she’s enjoyed her work there so much.
Currently, Mayra is the coordinator in Admissions, and her job gives her the opportunity to talk a lot about Mercy Home. She explained that she talks to a lot of families, therapists, hospitals, and schools, letting them know about the services that our Home provides. She also talks to kids considering coming here.
“I try to [let them know] that this is a great place and how they can work on different sorts of goals here and it can be very beneficial to them,” she said.
Mayra is also helping out more with case management, which means she has her own caseload of kids that she helps see through the process of moving into Mercy Home, as well as connecting with their family and giving them resources. She also refers families to other services if Mercy Home isn’t the best place for them and helps new youth move in. She is also part of a collective at our Home that meets with other organizations and shares resources to help more people in the community through things like referrals.
Though moving from working directly with kids in Youth Programs to Admissions was initially an adjustment, Mayra said that she has come to enjoy the change.
“The connections you make with youth and families [in Admissions] are shorter,” she said. “So I miss building on those relationships like when I was in program … [but] it’s interesting how different the conversations are so that you can earn a family and child’s trust [in Admissions]. But it’s been nice because I feel like over the year I’ve learned really good communication skills and typically families build that trust with me pretty fast just by having intentional conversations and hearing them out.”
And it’s those intentional conversations that are at the heart of what Mayra really loves about working at Mercy Home.
“I like the intentionality behind planning for each kid and for each family, because not every single situation is the same,” she said. “So I love the fact that we’re able to provide that.”
Mayra also mentioned that the teamwork to make this kind of planning possible, along with the teamwork she experienced in Walgreen Home, is another highlight of being part of the Mercy Home family.
“The support [Mercy Home] provides … I really appreciate that,” she said. “We kind of become a little family and are really supportive to each other.”