Social worker Tina Deleon Guerrero lends her voice to the unseen, unheard and unnoticed as she advocates for vulnerable populations

More than a decade ago, Tina Deleon Guerrero was intent on becoming a teacher. Now she realizes that God was directing her to the social work field all along.

“I feel like social work is my calling,” says Deleon Guerrero, who earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from George Fox in 2023. “I want to instill hope. I know what it feels like not to have hope, to feel stuck. I want to help people come to believe that they're more than what they think they are.”

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Deleon Guerrero grew up in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, where many of her family members are educators. When Deleon Guerrero met her husband and moved to Oregon in 2009, she planned to follow in their footsteps. She studied elementary education at Mt. Hood Community College but came up just a few points short of passing the final licensure exam.

Not long after that, Deleon Guerrero shadowed her sister-in-law, who taught in a high-stress elementary school classroom in Gresham, Oregon. She had intended to gain some field experience, but she didn’t enjoy the time she spent in the classroom. That’s when Deleon Guerrero realized that she didn’t want to be a teacher after all. This led her to switch gears and enter an entirely different career field.

A Heart for Helping People

“I was a caregiver for eight to 10 years, and I worked primarily with the elderly population,” Deleon Guerrero says. “I quickly discovered that was my heart and soul – helping people.”

Deleon Guerrero worked as a caregiver while she attended online classes through Southern New Hampshire University to earn her bachelor’s degree in human services. She served people in several different professional settings, including assisted living, residential treatment facilities and memory care. In addition, she worked for a few years in the mental health field. 

But Deleon Guerrero didn’t consider a career in social work until her therapist insisted that she look into it. She resisted the idea at first but eventually gave in and did some research. The more she learned about social work, the more interested she became.

This led her to look into MSW programs, and she was immediately drawn to George Fox, a program rooted in Christian values. It felt like the perfect fit for her. Deleon Guerrero’s orientation experience and her first day of classes just confirmed that initial feeling.

“When I first stepped into the classroom, it felt exhilarating,” she says. “I was just in such disbelief, because it took a lot to get to where I am right now. I went through a lot of barriers, so many obstacles. I just kept praying, just thanking God for the opportunity.”

Deleon Guerrero loved her time in the MSW program even though it was challenging. She appreciated the kind professors, interesting material and emphasis on ethics within the social work field. 

“The staff and the professors at Fox were very supportive, very understanding and very empathetic,” Deleon Guerrero says. “I really appreciated that about them.”

An Engaging Learning Environment

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George Fox’s MSW curriculum and experienced professors provided Deleon Guerrero and her cohort with an engaging learning environment. Professors brought their professional experiences to the table, broadening students’ understanding of what a career in social work actually looks like.

“My professors inspired me with the things that they taught us and the skills that we practiced in class,” she says. “Being able to practice skills and have discussions during class about some of the situations that we experienced in our internship – or even our professors’ past experience working with clients – gave us this new perspective. It made me want to be able to practice all of those tools and skills.”

Deleon Guerrero especially appreciated the many discussions she was able to have with her classmates surrounding social justice and advocacy work.

“We talked a lot about social justice in class and the inequalities that we experience, and in general what we’re seeing out there that’s going on,” she says. “It’s important to advocate for vulnerable populations, be their voice, stand up for them, and shine light on situations. That can easily be missed.”

Deleon Guerrero is passionate about human services, and she is determined to spread awareness to others as she emphasizes the importance of social work in our broken world.

“I find myself reaching out to a lot of friends and family members and saying, ‘Hey, you should really think about social work. We need more social workers,’” she says. “I just share my passion with them and how much of a difference they can make in a person’s life, and how much it’s really needed.”

Overcoming Doubts and Fears

Despite her enthusiasm for social work, Deleon Guerrero used to be afraid that she wouldn’t fit into her role as a social worker. Her insecurities ran wild, and she almost convinced herself that she wasn’t cut out to work in the field.

“I’ve always been an introvert and a naturally shy person, and I can get pretty awkward too,” Deleon Guerrero says. “That was what scared me when it came to working with my clients; I was afraid that my awkwardness would get in the way of my work, and that I would be unable to provide my clients with the support that they needed.”

She also had doubts related to being a woman of color.

“Before, I had felt insecure about fitting into this professional space,” she says. “That apprehension mostly stemmed from insecurities and my hyperawareness of the stigmas and stereotypes around being a woman of color. My island is part of the United States, but I didn’t grow up out here. I was always worried about how that might impact my work.”

Those doubts were proven wrong during the practicum phase of the MSW program, and Deleon Guerrero realized that she was right where God wanted her to be. 

“What really surprised me was actually working with a client for the first time by myself,” she says. “I totally transformed. I didn’t recognize myself, and I became this other person. I was hyperfocused on the client, their needs, and how to provide them with support. And then everything I learned – all the tools, skills and theories – came naturally. I did not expect it at all. It was very, very empowering.”

For Deleon Guerrero, George Fox was a place of transformation. She gained confidence that serves as a source of strength to this day, and she forged lasting relationships with professors and peers who recognized her potential.

“My self-esteem has definitely grown, along with the knowledge that I was able to gain,” she says. “But what I value the most is just how supportive everyone was throughout the whole program, and how they cheered us all on. I think we take for granted how just one person believing in you can make a difference – and it really does.”

Deleon Guerrero’s passion for social work has many layers to it, and so do her reasons for entering the field.

“I know that my passion for helping people stems a lot from my past,” she says. “I know what it feels like to be the underdog. I know what it feels like to be lonely, to feel outcast, and to feel like you don’t belong.”

Deleon Guerrero’s experiences as a woman of color fuel her desire to do social work.

“I’m passionate about social justice because I have personally experienced inequality, systemic racism and discrimination along with many in my community,” she says. “I can definitely relate in that way, and I know how much it impacts not just the individual, but the whole community.”

Helping People Find Their Purpose

Deleon Guerrero understands that social work has the power to tangibly change lives for the better, much like the work she started as a caregiver in the early 2010s.

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“Social work is important because even if you’re given the proper tools, even if you’re given the medications that you need to thrive, if you don’t have that meaning and purpose in life, none of it would matter,” she says. “It’s really important that people are able to dig deep and find that in themselves. A lot of times we get so stuck in how we believe ourselves to be that we just need someone to tell us otherwise.”

Deleon Guerrero is thankful that she gets to act as an agent of change in people’s lives as they work through their challenges and struggles. 

“The most rewarding thing is watching people thrive and find their voice,” she says. “I think it’s a beautiful thing to see someone transform before your eyes and find their worth.” 

Ultimately, Deleon Guerrero believes she is simply following God’s call on her life.

“I truly, deeply feel that my faith is what brought me here,” she says. “I feel like I’m being guided by God, and I’m just doing his work. I’m a servant helping his children, which helps me.”

Deleon Guerrero has interned and worked with a number of different social work organizations over the years, including Youth Outreach, Shangri-Lan, and Salem for Refugees. Now she is a forensic social worker at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, where she works to stabilize the mentally unwell as she advocates for them and helps them testify in court. She takes on many different individual tasks, but her overarching purpose is to restore individuals to the community. 

Deleon Guerrero is interested in helping domestic violence and sexual abuse victims in the future, but she is content with where she is now. She plans to keep developing her professional style and serving overlooked communities as she follows God and his will for her life. 

“George Fox helped me come to believe in myself, my capabilities and my worth,” she says. “I really hope that I’m able to make just as much of an impact on someone as George Fox was able to make on me.”

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