By John McGreevy, TJJD Communications

Spotlight On Patty Garza smlFor a lot of us, it can be easy to forget how big the state of Texas is.
This isn’t a problem for Patty Garza, the Community Relations and Family Coordinator for TJJD’s South Region.
South Region, she explains, “means the region above Waco, down through the Valley and over through El Paso,” she said. “I get volunteers for youth on parole within almost 100 counties and I split my time between the San Antonio Parole Office and Ayres Halfway House, getting volunteers for the youth here, and getting mentors and tutors.
“I’m a field instructor for interns – I just counted them up and I’ve had 88 student interns this semester.” She laughed and said, “That’s why I’m so tired.”
Garza has been with the agency for 24 years, starting as a parole assistant in San Antonio.
“I’ve always worked in social services, working with at-risk kids. I got my degree in Criminal Justice with educational assistance from TJJD and was a parole officer for about fifteen years. I was encouraged to go back to school, and I got my Master’s in Social Work.”
“I think I have one of the best jobs in the agency,” she said. “I get to do the fun stuff.”
“As a social worker, the playful engagement part of the Texas Model has always been something that I’ve utilized. Kids come here and they’re scared or they’re nervous, and if you engage with them in a way where you’re light-hearted but still taking them seriously, that will usually break down some walls.”
Being prepared is also important. “When a kid arrives, I’ve already done my homework on them,” she said. “I’ve done a review of their case. I’m not going to ask them about things that are going to trigger them or ask them something they’ve had to answer a thousand times.”
“This has been such a great job for me,” she said. “Working with these kids, working with the students, working with staff, a staff that I’ve worked with for over 20 years. That’s like family. That’s molded who I am.”
“It’s very easy for people to come in and say ‘We need to do this’ and ‘We need to change this’,’. I always remind people to be an observer. Learn. Learn from these kids.”
Finding new ways to work with the youth is as rewarding as it is challenging, she says.
“I love when we bring in new community members. For example, right now I’m processing a volunteer who is a sound healer. And she’s going to start doing ‘sound baths’ for our kids. In the past I’ve brought in people who helped our kids with meditation – I love for our kids to have new experiences. These kids have had limited exposure to so much of the world.”
Rise Above Hardship is another community partner that Garza found to volunteer with Ayres House youth and show them how to work out. “The gentleman who runs it is a veteran and a paraplegic and he really shows them how if he can overcome what he’s been through, they can overcome what they’ve been through.”
A job with so much activity and moving around can wear on anybody and Garza is mindful of the importance of her downtime and the need for rest and recreation. “I call myself kind of a self-care queen,” she said. “I do yoga. I have a husband and two kids and they’re all great artists, so we love to go to art museums. We go to coffee shops. We love to be outside in nature and experience new things.”
Garza has been inspired by many heroes and people in her work and her life, with her mom and Mister Rogers being at the top of the list. “I’m inspired by Social Justice advocates like Father Greg Boyle (the founder of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang-intervention and rehabilitation program), the volunteers who give their time and support to us.
“I’m all about the helpers. When I retire, I plan on helping the helpers, the ones that have been giving and giving of themselves and that are tired.”