Angelica Cornejo, LPC

Angelica Cornejo grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago—or, as she jokingly refers to it: “borderline Indiana.” When she arrived at Jones College Prep, an elite public high school in downtown Chicago, it was “a shock, really—hitting all that diversity.” Each day, she took the long commute to school. She got good grades and set her sights on college. And yet, finances posed a concern. “I had two older sisters that had started college and dropped out. We were in this crazy debt and I was like 'Hey! I am serious about school!'” Much to her relief, Angelica was granted a Wentcher Scholarship, which covered the majority of her tuition at UIC. “It was a weight off my shoulders.”

Once at UIC, Angelica quickly discovered an unexpected calling when she took an introductory psychology course. “Once I started learning about the four-hundred-plus diagnoses, I was like, this is so cool!” But when Angelica told her family of her plans, they had concerns. “They were like, ‘You won’t make any money! Nobody goes to that!’” The thing was, mental health wasn’t really discussed in her neighborhood. “I’m Mexican and I grew up in that environment. We have a saying: You do your dirty laundry at home. That’s where you deal with your problems. It’s a cultural thing.” And it wasn’t just that. There was also the issue of resources, and exposure. “There are no mental health centers or even a private practice on the Southeast Side.” Nonetheless, Angelica kept working on her family, and seeing her passion they quickly came around. “Now they love it.”

As a student, Angelica began volunteering at the Gateway Foundation, and in the Battered Women Department of a wellness center in Pilsen. There she followed a counselor and worked as her assistant. She saw the lack of funding and support. She learned to write grants. She felt herself being drawn to issues of trauma and domestic violence. The work was trying. “You’d go home and you’d think about these women. You’d think, I’m coming home to a safe environment. I look forward to going home. Why am I this lucky and they’re not?”

By 2013, Angelica had a career set out for her, with her family enthusiastically behind her. She graduated that year with a dual Bachelors in Psychology and Sociology from UIC, and was accepted into Roosevelt University's Clinical Psychology Masters Program—a degree which allowed for a specialty in Counseling. Soon she began her practicum, working one-on-one with patients at Stickney Township, a government-funded public health center that provides outreach and mental health services to low-income families. “We find that children within this population have a lot of behavioral problems. But parents are reluctant to get help. I think they also fear the price. Maybe it will help to see another Hispanic.”

Angelica now practices at a not-for-profit organization that serves clients across the city and in the south suburbs. As the only Spanish-speaking member of her team, Angelica says "I pride myself in being able to empower, mentor, and advocate for my clients, in an effort to help them realize their full potential and to strengthen communities." Her long-term goal is to reduce the stigma that can come with addressing one's emotional and mental health. Mirroring Ernest Wentcher's example, Angelica notes that, "If I can have a positive impact on at least one of my clients and make a difference in their life, I will feel accomplished."