Mistie Ayala ’18 is channeling a lifetime of volunteer service into a manager’s role at a local healthcare consortium.

True Grit

Earning her bachelor’s degree hasn’t come easy for Mistie Ayala ’18. On her path to graduating with honors in 2018 from the Elms/Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) off-campus program, she overcame one hardship after another: She is a domestic violence survivor. She was a single mom at 16. She worked overnight shifts on the weekends at Motel 6 for 20 months, all while attending classes every other Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo of Elms/HCC social work grad and Kirley Award winner Mistie Ayala

“I didn’t have the most perfect life as a kid,” she said. “Until I was 13, I was really on my own. I struggled a lot. I raised myself. My parents were substance abusers. I didn’t really spend a lot of time with them.”

Despite her childhood trials, Mistie resolved to live her life with compassion and perseverance. Early in her educational career, when she was studying to earn her associate’s degree from Greenfield Community College, she became a humanitarian globetrotter, volunteering her help in Haiti, New Orleans, and other areas devastated by natural disasters. These experiences, along with her own personal history, motivated her to build a career as a social worker.

“I never thought I would make it to my bachelor’s,” she said. “I never thought I would do all these things, advocate for all these people, get all these awards. A lot of my accomplishments come from Elms College and The Care Center in Holyoke.”

Elms/STCC Social Work: Unlike Anything Else

While Mistie originally planned on attending Westfield State University to complete her degree, she decided to enroll at Elms instead because the program was unlike anything else she had seen before.

“We had people commuting from Springfield, Hartford, Pittsfield, and Cape Cod in my program. They’re coming from distances just for this program, because it’s not offered anywhere else,” she explained. “Other schools may offer weekend programs, but they’re not as structured as Elms College. They don’t give you the same credits, structure, or support. I needed that support.”

‘Other schools may offer weekend programs, but they’re not as structured as Elms College. They don’t give you the same credits, structure, or support. I needed that support.’

Knowing she would need real-world social work experience to find a job in the human services industry, Mistie organized an internship at The Care Center in Holyoke, MA, during the final year of her studies. Having earned her GED through the center’s educational programming in 2008, Mistie felt like she was returning to her roots, providing support to youth and families just as the staff had once done for her. Mistie’s advocacy for clients was formally recognized with the Sr. Kathleen Kirley Award, which acknowledges exceptional commitment to improving the lives of others.

“I feel like this plaque not only represents Sr. Kathleen, but myself as well,” she said. “It represents our souls, and how they’re intertwined and connected. It represents how our courage and passion to never give up will always stand.”

Photo of Mistie Ayala '18, a graduate of the Elms/STCC program in social work

Before she graduated, Mistie was hired as a managing care coordinator in the Springfield, MA, branch of Innovative Care Partners (ICP). As a member of this brand-new health and human services organization, Mistie will lead a team of five clinical social workers, manage a workload of 50 cases on her own, and coordinate her team’s work with ICP at large.

While her time at Elms/STCC makes up only a small piece of her life, Mistie nevertheless credits the program with having an undeniable impact on her self-confidence and self-perception.

“I was very lucky I had this program,” she said. “I felt like an adult in this program, for the first time in my life. I wasn’t the same Mistie anymore.”

Elms/STCC offers a range of flexible degree programs to help you transform your career. If you share Mistie’s determination and work ethic, contact us for more information about finding a program that is right for you.