HARLINGEN, TX — BCFS Health and Human Services-Harlingen Clinician Valerie Nelson has been presented with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s (UTRGV) Dr. Emmette R. Hutto Outstanding Alumnus Award for her work in the community. Valerie is a recent UTRGV graduate who joined the BCFS Health and Human Services mission of service to others. Through BCFS-Harlingen’s Project HOPES parenting education program, she is building her community through her own education and experiences.
Project HOPES serves families who live in Cameron County who have children between the ages of 0-5. This year, HOPES has served 175 families through the SafeCare Curriculum, an evidence-based parent-training regimen and how-to guide focused on a child’s health and safety that is taught in the home. Since joining BCFS in 2016, Valerie has internalized the project.
SafeCare is comprised of three separate modules — Parent-Child/Infant Interaction, Health, and Safety — that are each six sessions long. The goal (of HOPES) is to improve interaction between the parent and the child,” she says, “and to give information on ways to facilitate the bond between caregiver and child.
She continues, mentioning HOPES’ ancillary services like basic needs support, family assistance, and counseling that make the program more accessible in the community.
“Also, monthly, we do literacy events that incorporate face painting, and arts and crafts for the kids, and parents have the opportunity to pick up small but practical giveaways, like outlet covers and cabinet locks to make their home safer for their children.”
In addition to managing a six-member team of HOPES Parent Educators and Family Support Coordinators, and being designated a SafeCare coach who ensures fidelity to the curriculum, Valerie is one of two of HOPES’s Licensed Professional Counselors that provide family counseling when a family requests. “Our families face a number of stressors,” she says, “so it’s important that HOPES families have access to counseling professionals in the convenience and comfort of their homes.”
Paving the Way for Future Students
Valerie’s alma mater is the result of the University of Texas System’s decision to combine its UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the UT Regional Academic Health Center-Harlingen campuses. During the retool, UTRGV’s counseling program would need to reapply for accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Valerie helped the program succeed.
Part of the accreditation process includes information from the professors and the university, but a major component is the implementation of the program,” she explains. “I was interviewed as an alumnus and internship site supervisor. From those interviews with me and others, the CACREP panel was able to grant the accreditation to the program.
Even after earning her Master’s in counseling, Valerie stays engaged with her professors, crossing paths in a regional association of counseling professionals of which she is the treasurer. Her professors nominated her for the Hutto Award.
“Every two years, the association hosts a two-and-a-half day conference for professionals. They (professors) said they took note of the role I played in leading and organizing this year’s conference,” she says humbly. “I was completely surprised,” she adds about learning of her award. That Valerie has chosen a career path in the direct service of others grows from the example she has seen since she was young girl.
“My mother served in a political position for thirty years and my father was a paramedic,” she says. “At a young age, I was out in the community volunteering with local school organizations, church groups, and the Girl Scouts.“In college, I found counseling as a calling,” she says. “Helping individuals discover their own strengths and using those skills to improve the circumstances for themselves and their families…is indescribable.”
Visit HOPES for more information.