MEET OUR GRADUATES: Once Homeless, Garcia is Now Pursuing a Career in Social Work

Headshot of Francisca Garcia
Rhode Island College Impact

Forty-eight-year-old Francisca Garcia is not only graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work, she has already been accepted into RIC’s M.S.W. program. 

RIC senior Francisca Garcia arrived in Bronx, New York, from Ecuador in 1999, with a baby boy of six months. She had come to live with her father whom she hadn’t seen for many years. Unfortunately, their lengthy separation left a barrier between her and her father’s family. Two years later, she was forced to leave with her toddler and her five-month-old daughter.  

While wandering the streets of New York, a woman suggested she go to Rhode Island, that it would be easier to find help there. 

“I came to Rhode Island in 2001,” Garcia says. “I didn’t speak English and I didn’t know anyone. When I arrived, the taxi driver took me to a police station. There, they found someone who spoke Spanish so that I could explain to them what I was doing here.”

For a while, Garcia and her children lived in a shelter. She said she decided to go into social work because of the suffering she saw while she was at the homeless shelter. She saw women and children going hungry, children crying because they didn’t want to be there, months and months of waiting for services made more difficult by the language barrier (there was only one social worker who spoke Spanish) and she experienced sexually inappropriate touching by the men in the shelter, many of whom she said were drug addicts.

Feeding her children was an everyday odyssey. “We had to leave the shelter at 6 a.m. and go to a food pantry in downtown Providence if we wanted to get food,” she says.

But thanks to a social worker at the shelter, they were transferred to transitional housing. “I saw how much the social worker – the only one who spoke Spanish – could help improve the lives of people who were at that shelter,” she says. “That motivated me to learn English so I could someday become a social worker and help others.” 

Garcia took ESL classes. Four years later, she earned her GED through the National External Diploma Program. She enrolled at CCRI in the nursing assistance and social services certificate programs, before earning an associate degree in social work in May 2019. 

In fall 2019 she transferred to RIC to major in social work. She says that her time in RIC’s B.S.W. program has given her the knowledge she needs to help those who are oppressed. “Now I feel that I can motivate people and help them grow, value and believe in themselves,” Garcia says.

She praises her teachers and classmates at RIC. “I have had the most amazing time here,” she says. “The teachers and classmates have been very supportive. They are humble, willing to help, compassionate and good people,” and adds, “Here you are not alone. If you need help, there are different resources like the Writing Center and Learning for Life, which are ready to aid you. Through Learning for Life, RIC provided me with emergency relief funds at a time when I needed it most.”

Now that Commencement is close, Garcia is happy to see that her children are following in her footsteps. “I’ve shown my children how important education is. I don’t want them to go through what I went through,” she says. “My eldest son is 24 years old and has a degree in business and finance from URI, my eldest daughter graduated from RIC with a degree in psychology and my youngest daughter is finishing high school and will be going to college.” 

Not only will Garcia be earning a bachelor’s degree in social work this May, she has already been accepted into RIC’s M.S.W. program. She says that her children and all her family in Ecuador are very proud of how far she has come. 

“Looking back, I see how my life has changed. I was homeless, I didn't know English and I didn’t have the resources. Now, I want to continue my education so I can help those who might be in the same situation that I was in.”