Human services spotlight on Mia Ferreira, LCSW

Mia Ferreira celebrating her LCSW at Laguna Beach. Mia Ferreira/Courtesy

Health and human services faculty and friends congratulated professor Mia Ferreira this week on receiving her certification as a licensed clinical social worker. This accomplishment took Ferreira six years to complete and over 3,200 hours of clinical internship experience.

Ferreira went back to school in her 40s to complete a second masters degree in social work at California State University at Fullerton. It has been a challenge for her to juggle her life not only as a returning student, but also as a full-time program manager for the Alternative Sleeping Location, a program of Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach. Ferreira is also a teacher at Saddleback College and raises a family. 

“I am so excited about this,” Ferreira said. “I am a lifelong learner and have a passion for human services.” 

Ferreira has been the program manager for the Friendship Shelter since 2013. The Friendship Shelter is a homeless services non-profit in Laguna Beach which was incorporated in 1988. They offer emergency low-barrier shelter for adults experiencing homelessness. 

There are two shelters located in Laguna Beach and Laguna Canyon. They provide housing for up to 160 guests. Their administrative office is located in Laguna Woods in the Towne Centre on El Toro Road.

The Friendship Shelter is located at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. Friendship Shelter/Courtesy

Ferreira is the chair of a committee that evaluates systemic problems, policy matters and gaps in services. She also oversees interns who work with people experiencing homelessness to identify what benefits and resources are available to them, while finding the best fit for each individual. 

Ferreira previously worked for various non-profits throughout her career in California and Illinois.

Three years ago, professor Kim Branch-Stewart, MSW, LCSW, chair of human services at Saddleback College, invited Ferreira to be a guest speaker in her Introduction to Human Services class. She went on to become a speaker at the Panel Presentation, which is currently known as the Human Services Information Session for the certification course. Ferreira and Branch-Stewart co-taught a couple of classes together before Ferreira was made a part of the adjunct faculty. 

“Observing her connection with the students and her presentation was the reason I kept asking her to come back,” Branch-Stewart said. “She’s a fabulous, wonderful, smart, caring professional who is a huge asset to our human services team.” 

Ferreira now teaches Crisis Intervention and Case Management, Group Process, Human Development and Multicultural and Diverse Populations in the United States at Saddleback College. 

The spring 2020 mid-semester transition from on-campus classes to online Zoom classes was difficult for professors and students alike. 

“It was interesting and challenging,” Ferreira said. “It was hard to connect and there was less conversation than in the actual classroom.”

The transition to Zoom was “seamless” said Cecilia Mussen, another student in Ferreira’s human services intern class. Mussen interviewed for a position at Palms Recovery in Laguna Hills on Monday and will begin her internship next week. She began her studies with the Introduction to Human Services class with Ferreira and was really impressed so she decided to continue and took three more classes with her. 

Ceci Mussen driving to 7 p.m. human services class with professor Ferreira. Cecilia Mussen/Courtesy

“She is so patient and brought so much to the classes with personal experience and had interesting guest speakers,” Mussen said. “I learned so much about my personal biases and how to address them.” 

Maria Emanuel worked as an intern at the Friendship Shelter under Ferreira’s supervision from Jan. to May 2019. Emanuel, a former student at Saddleback, received her associates degree in human services and is now at the University of California Long Beach pursuing a degree in social work. 

“The population there is mostly adult males which was different than I was used to working with— women with children suffering from alcohol and drug issues,” Emanuel said. “During the intake interview, I got to meet these people and hear their incredible stories and see how we could help them through Homeless Management Services.”

Many of the clients that come to the Friendship Shelter suffer from addiction and/or mental health issues. But, housing is the essential key for these individuals to address those problems in a safe and stable environment. Once a permanent residence is acquired the staff work with clients on evidence-based tools such as harm reduction and the recovery model.

Maria Emanuel shops for groceries for the Friendship Shelter. Maria Emanuel/Courtesy

Social distancing has impacted the number of guests that can be housed at both facilities because of the coronavirus precautions. The Friendship Shelter response is “Project Toolbelt,” which is a supportive housing program that has placed over 100 people in motel rooms in Orange County. 

“Essentially Project Toolbelt is a program designed to assist people who were placed in COVID-19 shelter locations like motels to ensure that they do not return to homelessness on the streets,” said Connor Stephenson, data and compliance administrator for Friendship Shelter.

Stephenson started his relationship with the Friendship Shelter in Jan. 2017 as an intern at the Alternative Sleeping Location through the Saddleback human services program under Ferreira’s supervision.

“When the time for my internship came to an end, I was elated to hear that Mia was able to offer me a paid position on her team at the ASL,” Stephenson said.

The ASL just recently acquired two new trailers to quarantine guests who have COVID-19 symptoms.

The trailer acquired by the Friendship Shelter for COVID-19 quarantine. Friendship Shelter/Courtesy

“There are over 30 homeless shelters in Orange County,” Ferreira said. “There is transitional housing, domestic violence victims’ shelters, pregnant teen programs and Christian organizations.”

The Salvation Army in Anaheim is one of the Christian organizations.

Joshua Ramirez, another student of human services at Saddleback College, began his human service studies in the fall 2017 after he stayed at the Salvation Army.

Joshua Ramirez prepares for his interview with Truvida Recovery. Joshua Ramirez/Courtesy

“They focus on developing structure,” Ramirez said.  “I worked in the ‘labor program,’ where I worked eight hours in the warehouse, then attended 12-step meetings on topics like smoking cessation. There were recovery bible studies to attend during the week and church on Wednesdays and Sundays. Group counseling and personal therapy addressed drug and alcohol addiction.” 

Currently, Ramirez is working as a Recovery Technician at Truvida Recovery in Lake Forest and is due to graduate from Saddleback in the spring 2021.

Hannah Goldstick is a continuing human services student who also has taken classes with Ferreira.

Hannah Goldstick takes a break from her studies. Hannah Goldstick/Courtesy

“Compared to general education classes, human services classes offer more connection for me,” Goldstick said. “We’re warmer and closer to each other and talk more openly about our trauma and she (Ferreira) was always patient and never critical of us.” 

One of the opportunities Ferreira offered for extra credit was if a question was raised and a student or the class didn’t know the answer, she would allow students to do their own research and write a paper on the subject matter.

Ferreira’s plans are to continue teaching at Saddleback, maintain her administrative and hands-on approach at the Friendship Shelter, and supervise interns in the social work field that assists homeless as well as other individuals with challenges.

“If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness,” Ferreira added, “the first thing you need to do is call 211 to get immediate resources in your area.” 

Due to COVID-19 all future events have been put on hold at the Friendship Shelter till it is safe for social gatherings.