As a high school senior, Natasha Patino couldn’t wait to go to college to pursue her goal of becoming a mental health counselor. When she began applying to schools, she knew she would need help funding her education but wasn’t sure where to turn. After learning about an organization in the Upstate dedicated to making young Hispanic students’ dreams of going to college a reality, she applied for their scholarship program and ended up receiving much more than money for school.
The Hispanic-American Women’s Association (Asociación Hispano-Americana de Mujeres, or AHAM) is dedicated to helping the Hispanic population achieve a better future through higher education, community involvement and cultural awareness. Believing that education is the key to success, AHAM provides scholarships to Hispanic students from the Upstate. Since 1999, Asociación Hispano-Americana de Mujeres has awarded $214,300 to 99 students, and will award $20,000 to eight students this May.
A dedicated student at the top of her class, Natasha was eager to begin her collegiate career. In her scholarship application, she wrote an essay describing her goals and how she hoped to use her education to help her community. Although a perfect applicant on paper, it was the story of inspiration and motivation she shared during her interview that stood out most to the women of AHAM.
When Natasha was 15, her father fell into a deep depression. Functioning in day-to-day life became an unbearable challenge, and he could no longer work. The financial strain forced her sister to drop out of college and work full time. Her father struggled to find help. Although he spoke English, he had a thick accent and couldn’t find a bilingual therapist close to home. He moved back to his native Colombia and then to Florida, where he finally found the help he needed.
Overcoming depression was not only a struggle for her father, but Natasha’s whole family. The personal experience of facing these challenges inspired Natasha. “We didn’t have the help we so desperately needed,” she said. “Finding help as soon as possible makes taking back your life easier. By tearing down those language barriers, I want to help keep families together.”
With help from AHAM’s scholarship fund, Natasha graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Carolina in 2007. She earned a Master of Arts in clinical mental counseling from Webster University and became certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Natasha currently serves as a mental health counselor and the Supervisor of Hispanic Services at Greenville Mental Health Center.
Looking back, Natasha realized AHAM contributed not only to funding her education, but also to fueling her passion to help others.
“The scholarship was more than money for school, it was a great experience. The women from Asociación Hispano-Americana de Mujeres were helpful and inspiring,” Natasha said. “They understood me and wanted to help me reach my goals, and that’s influenced me throughout the years.”
Natasha plans to become a member of AHAM this year and use her skills to help make a positive impact. “Knowing there are other women dedicated to helping our community makes me feel like I’m not fighting this battle alone,” she said. “Together we can help families find the resources they need to live a better life.”