CHS Doctoral Student Advocates for City of El Paso Resolution
Maria Fuentes, a doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD Program, is celebrating a victory in her advocacy efforts for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Fuentes and two representatives from local nonprofit Angels’ Mission—Betty Castorena, CEO, and recent MSW program graduate Alina Arredondo—approached the City of El Paso to propose declaring April as National Autism Month in El Paso. Following the submission of a letter and a speaking engagement at a regularly scheduled city council meeting, the group was successful and received the official resolution from City Representative Isabel Salcido in mid-May.
Fuentes has a long history of advocacy in this area, beginning when her now college-age son, Dario, was diagnosed with ASD at the age of five.
“You discover that, as a mom, you need to get involved in educating others, including teachers, in how to work and interact with someone on the spectrum,” she said. “There is a quote that says, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met ONE person with autism,’ meaning that every single person on the spectrum is different. Some people just have a difficulty with communication and others with social engagement, but the intelligence is intact in many, or even higher, and that’s where you have to work really hard to help others understand that a person with autism has the ability to succeed in life when provided the proper resources and support system.”
Fuentes’ efforts in bringing light to the complexities of ASD have included participating in school educational fairs, and organizing UTEP’s Light it Up Blue conferences, featuring local experts on the topic. Most recently, she submitted a grant to the El Paso Community Foundation via Angels’ Mission to support “Mozart’s Friends,” a project designed to enhance the artistic abilities of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), providing them an outlet to express their emotions while increasing their confidence and sense of self-worth. If the grant is awarded, Fuentes will leverage the relationships that Angels’ Mission has in the community to further expand resources for children with IDD and their families.
Fuentes said that she was inspired by the stories and advocacy efforts of students in the Social Work department, and believes that if more UTEP students were aware of how simple the process really is to approach city representatives, they would be encouraged to speak up about issues they are equally passionate about.
“I wish people outside of UTEP could see the many great ideas that students have and the activities they are all involved with,” she said. “I believe education is a powerful tool, and I would advise other students to continue advocating, using knowledge as their main source of power, to see the changes they want to see in the world one step at a time, patiently and without stopping.”