Pinkerton Fellow, Once Helped, Now Helps Others

Pinkerton Fellow, Once Helped, Now Helps Others

Pinkerton Fellow, Once Helped, Now Helps Others

Youth justice has always been important to Vanessa Castro-Mora, a current Pinkerton Community Fellow who has spent the past year working with the Prisoner Reentry Institute’s College Initiative, a program that helps youths involved in the criminal justice system to apply for college.

Castro-Mora’s inspiration to help underprivileged students comes in part from her own personal experience – she knows how difficult it can be to pursue higher education. “When my high school guidance counselor asked if I was applying to college, my response was ‘No, I’m a first generation immigrant, I can’t afford a degree, I should keep working and saving up money,’” she recalled. But her counselor convinced her to apply to a CUNY school, and by her second year at John Jay, she had picked up a Human Services minor to go along with her major in Forensic Psychology, and was well on the way to helping students from similar backgrounds to make the same choice – to pursue a college degree.

“Because of the language barrier, my parents could never help me with my homework, but they were always pushing me to get good grades,” she said.

Castro-Mora is now a graduating senior in the Honors Program, and during her time at John Jay, she has worked with youth in many different capacities. Her experience interning at an after-school program in Harlem, and later as a peer counselor at John Jay, allowed her to develop the delicate skill of listening to students and understanding their needs on a personal level.

“There’s so much stigma surrounding youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” she said, “but when you learn about their motivations, and their goals and career plans, you realize that they’re just people like you or me. They’re going through the same process that anyone would go through.”

Castro-Mora plans to continue her work with College Initiative this summer by pursuing a three month extension of the Pinkerton Community Fellowship. “I’ve gotten really close with the other fellows. When we go out together, we only talk about criminal justice, which is nerdy,” she laughed, “but I love it. It’s really a nice community.” In the fall, Vanessa plans to attend graduate school at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

While she doesn’t have a lot of free time for extracurricular activities, Castro-Mora is a voracious reader. Her favorite books are Chicano novels because they speak to the experience of being a Latina woman in the United States. “I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t get somewhere,” she said, “because I never saw myself getting to this point. That’s why my biggest motivation is helping underserved minorities, and especially women.”