Strengthening families

A healthy and happy life begins at home.

As a family intervention specialist at the nonprofit Youth Villages in Woburn, Mass., Alicia Alvarez ’15 works directly with clients to help them achieve stability, both as individuals and as a family.

“Children are better raised by their families, and we focus on creating interventions that can improve the family dynamics, taking a strength-based perspective,” said Alvarez, a psychology major at Wheaton, who earned her master’s degree in human development and psychology at Harvard.

At Youth Villages, Alvarez provides counseling to families and individuals both in their home and in residential settings. She creates treatment and safety plans, enabling families to develop skills necessary to thrive. She works closely on cases referred to her by the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Youth Services. As a member of the bilingual team, she serves primarily low-income Hispanic families.

“Youth Villages is an organization that really believes in its mission. It is a great place to learn and grow as a professional—which is something that attracted me since the moment I interviewed for the position,” said Alvarez, a native of the Dominican Republic. 

Alvarez first became fascinated with the psychological impact that dynamics have on children and adolescents while in college. There, she learned the fundamental truth that for children to thrive, they need committed caregivers, she said.

“My sophomore year at Wheaton was really life-changing academically,” she said. “I took ‘Adolescent Development’ and ‘Multicultural Psychology’ with Associate Professor of Psychology Peony Fhagen. Both classes sparked my interest to further explore the topics discussed, leading these areas of psychology to become the main focus for my remaining time at Wheaton.”

Under Fhagen’s supervision, she completed an honors thesis studying body dissatisfaction among Dominican and Dominican American adolescent girls. Also, she worked in Fhaden’s Self-Development Lab as a research assistant.

“Alicia was a dedicated student who developed a passion for psychology, particularly multicultural and cross-cultural psychology,” Fhagen said. “Many students looked up to her because of her work ethic in and outside the classroom.”

Alvarez explored interests outside the classroom as a member of the Latino Student Association, Intercultural Board, Residential Life and Student Government Association.

Her extracurricular involvement made her feel a part of something bigger than herself, she said.

“I was able to feel integrated into a community in which people shared my passions and goals, and in which I was able to grow and learn with my fellow classmates. My involvement really taught me the importance of effective communication when being part of a team, and helped me identify and learn more about my own leadership style,” she said.

Looking forward, Alvarez plans to continue building work experience to narrow down her focus within the field of psychology. She is considering pursuing her Ph.D. in counseling psychology, and perhaps someday opening up a community-based facility in her home country of the Dominican Republic.