JMU grad begins career in social work at agency that helped him as a teen

Dennis Villeda graduated from JMU and began his career in social work. He's working for the same agency that helped him as a teen.
Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 11:08 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - While there are a lot of opportunities in Virginia for youth in the foster care system to pursue higher education and get a college degree, the majority of them are unlikely to do so, but Dennis Villeda is a different story.

As a foster child, Villeda was in and out of different homes, not knowing what the future held.

“My experience as a foster child was very chaotic in a lot of ways. Just moving around, kind of, my life being up in the air in terms of knowing where I was going to be living and not having parental guidance. Just kind of being confused and feeling lost at times,” Villeda explained.

At 17, soon to age out of foster care, Villeda was given the chance to live independently through Impact Living Services. It’s a nonprofit that helps young adults get on their feet and into the real world.

“Impact was an environment that didn’t make me like I was in foster care, like, it didn’t make me feel like I was a number,” Villeda said.

When Villeda joined Impact, it was clear he was motivated to do something meaningful with his life.

“You could tell that he was someone that put in the right circumstances with the right guidance and the right level of support would do very well for himself,” Samantha Brooks, IL Program Manager said.

With hard work and support from Impact, Villeda completed an associate’s degree at Blue Ridge Community College before graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work degree from JMU. It’s something many kids who were in foster care do not achieve.

“It’s actually one percent or less of all youth nationwide that are in foster care that have some college, let alone a four-year degree. So he is in the one percent club in that way,” Brooks said.

And now, things have come full circle as Dennis has started his career as a live-in case worker for Impact.

“I just never expected the outpour of support and just kind of anyone to give a foster kid this type of opportunity. It’s just not something I’ve ever heard of and not something that I really thought would become a possibility,” Villeda said.

While it wasn’t always an easy road, Villeda said he’s thankful for the support he received from Impact.

“I’m just thankful and give thanks to my lucky stars, or whoever, that everything in life just led me here, and that’s just literally what it feels like. Now, I just understand a lot better and see everything a lot clearer,” Villeda said.

Now, he’s looking forward to making his own impact on the next generation.

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