Sara Aguirre is the programs director of Christian Women’s Job Corps of McLennan County, a local nonprofit that provides free educational and career building opportunities to women. She’s also currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Tarleton State University. She dreams of becoming a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in trauma-informed care and crisis intervention. But Aguirre didn’t always have this dream. In fact, for a while, she said she didn’t dream at all.
Aguirre grew up in poverty, and in fifth grade, she began using drugs to dull years of endured trauma. Supporting herself from a young age, she scraped by with part-time jobs before pursuing nursing, but after working at a hospital as a certified nursing assistant, she didn’t feel like she had found her passion. When faced with the psychological and emotional weight of patient loss combined with the passing of her mother, Aguirre returned to old habits.
“I had a good two to three years of a rough patch where I kind of fell off the grid,” she said. “I went back to alcohol and drugs, back to substance abuse, back to a lot of old, unhealthy behaviors. Because I never dealt with the childhood trauma, I never received the healing I needed.”
Aguirre realized her actions were hurting not only herself but also her family and the people around her.
“I don’t want to be someone who hurts others,” she said. “Hurting people hurt other people, and if you don’t get the healing you need, then you’re going to continue the cycle. And that’s a no for me.”
In 2013, Aguirre checked herself into Grace House. Formerly a ministry of Antioch Community Church, Grace House is now closed, but it was a long-term residential addiction treatment center for women. Aguirre spent two years and eight months in the program and received faith-based counseling and life-skills training free of charge.
“I experienced a lot of healing,” she said. “I did a lot of the hard work that people avoid doing. Because it’s painful when you’re having to work through trauma, face those demons. What kept me going, pursuing healing and wholeness was, obviously, God. That’s cliche, but I felt he had such greater plans for me than to just be stuck in the emotional pain and turmoil that trauma brings.”
As a part of the transitional phase of the program to help residents prepare to return to daily life, Aguirre enrolled in classes with CWJC. She took Bible study and classes in computer skills, communications and — one of her personal favorites — boundaries, which teaches participants how to have healthy boundaries in their relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
“I came in, and I took every class they offered,” she said. “I didn’t have a job, a car, a phone, anything. I was just working on getting my life right and restarting. I learned a lot of different skills and learned how to implement them.”
And in the process, Aguirre began to dream again.
“It was a life-changing experience,” she said. “That’s where my confidence was really built. I was insecure about my direction in life and what options were out there. I fully engaged in the program and just really worked out a lot of heart issues. It was where God really got a hold of my heart, where I started having dreams and goals in life. God put it on my heart to do social work.”
Inspired by her own struggle with addiction and fight to overcome the effects of trauma, Aguirre feels God called her to be a “voice of hope for others” as a social worker. She went back to school and took the last two classes she needed to complete her associate degree in general studies at McLennan Community College. Then she continued on to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work from Tarleton. For two semesters, she interned for the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services and worked with families in the foster care system. Last August, she started work on her master’s, and she’ll start an internship with Unbound, Antioch’s anti-human trafficking ministry, this summer.
Beyond returning to school, Aguirre has also stayed busy working and volunteering in the community. When Grace House was still in operation, she volunteered as a residential assistant to women in the transitional house. She’s also volunteered with other Antioch ministries including overseas mission trips, a ministry for at-risk youth and the Stars Mentoring Project.
In 2018, Aguirre began working part-time for CWJC as an administrative assistant, and shortly after getting her bachelor’s, she began working full-time as the site coordinator. Now as the programs director, she oversees program development, student case management and social work interns.
“I never thought in a million years I would be here as the programs director,” she said. “It’s strange, but I’m so thankful that I’m not where I was. A lot can happen in five years, six years. It’s been a journey. It’s just amazing to see how far God can take you if you’re willing.”
Whether a woman wants to earn her GED or is looking to build her job readiness skills through the Glow workshops and classes, CWJC’s mission is to foster the spiritual, personal and professional growth of women in the Waco community and help them take the next step in their education or career. In her role, Aguirre gets to be a part of program development and evaluating what might be a community need. She said she’s excited to see the Glow program, which stands for Growth Learning Opportunities for Women, expand to include entrepreneurship classes, goals workshops and advanced computer classes.
“I love to help women identify the journey they want to take and help them get the confidence they need to be able to dream again,” Aguirre said. “That’s definitely what I got when I came here. Yes, I was healing, and that’s going to be a lifelong process. But CWJC is a launching pad for women to move forward in their dreams.”
At her CWJC graduation ceremony, Aguirre gave a speech where she briefly shared her story and her testimony about the program, but she said she doesn’t share her story often.
“I don’t want it to be like, ‘Hey, this is how you should do it.’ Because everyone’s journey is different,” she said. “Their healing process and their journey sometimes takes a whole different method or whole different skill to overcome or get through. This is your process, and you have to own your process.”