Community and Social Systems
Wheeler Family Memorial Fund
Corner Health Center, Ypsilanti
The death of a close friend made Andi Salinas realize that life is precious, and that she wanted to spend hers doing what she loves. “I have the opportunity to do something that I want and I’m going to do it,” Andi says. “I’m going to make a positive change in the world and help other people.” Now, she is pursuing that positive change with an MSW at the U-M School of Social Work, thanks to the Wheeler Memorial Scholarship.
Andi didn’t always know that social work was in her future, but she has been passionate about helping people her whole life. Originally from the Lansing area, she studied public policy at Michigan State University, then travelled all over the country to help communities. After working with AmeriCorps in Nevada and Colorado, Andi gained exposure to outdoor education, working as a youth trail leader for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. Now, her goal is to bring outdoor education to LGBTQ youth through her experiences at the School of Social Work and her field placement at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti.
“I already have a lot of experience doing outdoor education,” Andi says, “but I need experience working with LGBTQ youth. That’s what I’m doing at the Corner. I’m creating spaces for LGBTQ youth and starting a center for trans students and their parents. One thing I’ve learned at the School of Social Work is that it’s really important to have diversity of experience; that will make me a better social worker. People’s experiences aren’t one dimensional, so my education shouldn’t be one dimensional either.”
Andi believes that outdoor education and activities such as backpacking, climbing and kayaking can help LGBT youth realize their full potential, away from the constraints of society. “They’re capable of doing more than they think they are, but society makes them feel really limited,” she says. “Breaking out of that box shows them that they can do amazing things and that they’re amazing people.”
After earning her MSW, Andi plans to be a leader and build an outdoor education program with an LGBT youth organization. “I myself am queer, and not having LGBT role models growing up was really impactful to me,” Andi says. “I want to be the role model for kids that I didn’t have when I was growing up. The effects of a role model are immeasurable.”
None of this would have been possible for Andi without the help of the Wheeler Memorial Scholarship. Having moved to Colorado after college, she faced out-of-state tuition back in Michigan but didn’t have extensive family resources to count on. The Wheeler Scholarship helped make her dream a reality.
“I didn’t even know they gave out scholarships that big!” Andi says. “It was really awesome to think that the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Wheeler Memorial Scholarship thought that I was worthy.”
Andi understands the urgent need to fund social work education, and she is grateful to be part of the social work community. “I think social workers are really, really crucial to society,” she says. “They do things that are difficult and they take on a lot of problems to help make the world a better place. Social workers think about people first and how things will affect people first. This is what we need, in order to move forward as a society. My fellow students here really inspire me, because they do a lot of advocacy work. It’s shown me that you don’t have to wait to do that. You can speak up now.”