Mercedes Hernandez, Finding Yourself through Service to Others

PC SCE Grad-Mercedes Hernandez

We all want our lives to have purpose. Some of us are lucky enough to know exactly what it is, but for most it’s a journey of discovery. For Mercedes Hernandez, ‘13SCE, there has been as much value in the journey as in finding her purpose.

Born and raised in Providence, RI, Hernandez’ parents are devout Catholics who immigrated from Guatemala. They instilled in her a strong sense of their native culture and their spirituality. They also encouraged her to work hard.

At just 13, she began teaching martial arts at El Bebe Daycare in Providence after earning a brown belt in karate there herself. The business doubles as a daycare during the day and a martial arts studio in the evenings. By 17 she was working at the daycare as well, and leading a youth group at her church, St. Anthony’s Parish.

“Those experiences gave me a foundation of leadership and teaching,” Hernandez says. They also taught her the value of mentorship.

“The owners of the daycare have been very supportive and good role models for me through much of my life. I was one of their students when they first came to this country. I saw them start off in the basement of a building and watched them grow, and I’ve been able to grow along with them.”

Through her work at the daycare and with the youth group, Hernandez came to discover that she truly loved working with children.

“My parents wanted a doctor in the family, so for a while I thought I’d be a pediatrician. After high school I took some classes at Rhode Island College, but it turned out that it just wasn’t the right fit and not what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in the community with kids, but it wasn’t as a pediatrician,” Hernandez says.

Finding Yourself Through Service to Others

Unsure where to go from there, Hernandez took a year off from school and entered CityYear, an Americorps volunteer service program run by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through that program she herself served as a mentor, to middle school students who were struggling in school. She worked with the students to not only help them improve their grades but to motivate them about the importance of school and their future.

Hernandez continued to volunteer as a karate instructor and in her church during this time as well. She went on a retreat with her church at Providence College and immediately the next phase of her journey was laid out before her.

“I remember when I walked onto the campus I thought it was the most beautiful place I ever saw. I went into the chapel and just said to myself, this is where I want to be. My mentor at church, Aida Hidalgo, talked to me about getting a degree in theology. I thought I couldn’t afford to go; I was paying for school out of pocket, and I didn’t want any debt. She said ‘SCE will help you, and they have a night program so you can still work during the day.”

Still doubtful, Hernandez scheduled a meeting with Jennifer Andrews in the School of Continuing Education’s admissions office.

“She was so helpful,” Hernandez recalls. “She told me about the scholarships and I felt like it was a possibility. Everyone at SCE was so amazing in helping me get my curriculum together and to get credit for the college classes I had taken already. They found the easiest way possible for me to transition. I got the Woman’s Scholarship and I started my journey at PC. There was not one class I didn’t like. It was just the atmosphere, maybe the Catholic background that I had throughout middle school and high school that I loved having there too. I just felt at peace there.”

Hernandez graduated from SCE with a BA in Theology in 2013. But as all alumni know, that wasn’t the end of the journey; it was simply a transitioning to the next chapter.

When the journey takes an unexpected turn…

Shortly after graduation Hernandez went on a tour to India that changed her life. There, she met her husband Pushp Kumar Pathania, and they were both inspired to do a missionary trip to Calcutta, where they cared for both elderly people and young children at the Mother Theresa missionary homes.

Now Hernandez is caring for a child of her own, her seven-month old daughter Athalia Esperanza Pathania. She’s also come full circle, back working at the daycare where her love for children began, this time as the site coordinator for the business’ second location in Pawtucket – a position she wouldn’t have gotten without her degree.

“It turned out that I’m not using my Theology degree to work in the church. I did for a while, but I realized I don’t like getting paid for the work that I do there. For me, doing volunteer based work or community aid, it just didn’t feel right to get paid for it. All the work I do there, I do it because I love it. Once they paid me for it, it’s like the magic went away.”

Instead, Hernandez is now planning to go back to school for early childhood education and then perhaps go back to SCE for a certificate in business to follow in the footsteps of her mentors at the daycare.

But, she says, her experience at PC and what she learned in her Theology degree program has been a perfect complement to her career path nonetheless.

“Most people think you get a degree and you get it just for the job. But when I sit back and think about it, the experiences, the knowledge, the people that I met…I feel like it did prepare me for my life, even the job that I have now. I feel like there’s a lot of things that guided me in this direction, but PC really opened that door for me,” Hernandez says.

She continued, “This journey showed me who cared for me and how a journey to a bachelor’s degree isn’t just me. It’s family who sacrificed so I could walk that stage, family who supported me, its friends who don’t let you give up and who pushed me, it’s mentors that guide you, it’s teachers that inspire you, its students that look up to you, it’s a community and I’m thankful to every single one of them.“

The Journey Makes the Purpose Possible

Now that Hernandez has found the purpose for her life, she has some advice to share with others who are feeling they’re at a crossroads…

“One thing I always say to people, if you’re not sure, go talk to Jennifer Andrews in the admissions office at SCE. Everyone there is absolutely amazing. If you want it, they’re going to help you get it. They help you to get to your goals as quickly and directly as possible and are so willing to work with you. They’ve probably changed so many people’s lives, just by being that open.”

“When you’re an adult and you’re working, and you have a family and you’re tired, it’s hard for you to go back to school. Them facilitating it for you, it makes it possible. How they approach things for people makes it possible.”

“I feel like PC shaped who I am and that’s the most important thing I could have gotten from there. They showed me where I wanted to be. Nothing that you learn is ever put to waste. Education is eternal, wherever you go you learn what you take in, and it’s something that you can pass on. I know I’m hoping my own daughter is a PC alumna one day.”

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