As many migrant farming families struggle to find stability and educational opportunity in the U.S., Elena Reyes does not have to search deep in her memory to recall her own challenges as a young immigrant.
“My parents came over to the U.S. from Cuba in 1957,” says Reyes, director of the FSU College of Medicine’s Center for Child Stress and Health. “So, we were already residents here, but spent Christmas and New Year’s in Cuba in 1958. When the revolution broke out, we got the heck out of there really quickly.”
Reyes was enrolled at a junior college in Miami when she decided to branch out to study psychology at a university. Even though she was accepted by the University of Miami and FSU, she chose FSU because of its cheaper tuition. She stayed through graduate school because of FSU’s national standing in psychology and the offer of a fellowship.
Now as a member of FSU’s faculty, one of Reyes’ recent successes involved overseeing the effort to secure a $3 million, five-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The goal is to study the effects of severe childhood trauma for kids in migrant families. “Migrant farmworkers with kids in rural areas often have chronic stressors related to a financial situation or a lack of education,” Reyes says. “It is significant to have FSU bring in a grant to help a population not too many people know about.”
Reyes sees how the work being done at FSU addresses some issues she witnessed as a child. “A lot of these resources were not available when I grew up,” she says. “I often served as a translator for my grandmother when she went to the hospital in Miami. We are training an interprofessional team to understand the needs of the underserved. As part of that national network, we are able to provide resources.”