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How a USC graduate from Santa Maria uses her faith to tackle adversity

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — According to a recent Gallup study, the role of religion and spirituality can be considered as a way to help combat today's mental health crisis.

The study goes on to say that leaders looking for mental health solutions consider the opportunities that religion and spirituality offer to a range of institutions, including workplaces.

For USC graduate and Santa Maria native, Annyssa Sanchez, using religion and spirituality is no different. She uses her Christian faith as a solution to tackle adversity in her life.

Sanchez, 26, says her faith has accompanied her along the way.

"I come from a single-parent home of poverty, addiction, gang violence — domestic violence. We lived in section eight public housing," Sanchez said. "So, it was definitely a difficult experience in a way. Times were really hard. We would move from different family members homes."

After graduating from Pioneer Valley High School, Sanchez took on the challenge of getting a college degree. The Santa Maria native turned her fortune to Allan Hancock College.

Courtesy: Allan Hancock College

According to Sanchez, she thanks God for the opportunity AHC gave her, especially being able to enroll in the Hancock Promise program, during her first year as a bulldog.

Through the Hancock Promise program, AHC provides local high school graduates with a year of free tuition and a variety of benefits.

"Through the promise program, I was actually able to build and save financially in order for me to actually transfer go to Cal State LA," Sanchez said. "Through much support, connection and networking I was able to actually thrive successfully, especially with the help of career advisors."

Sanchez touts AHC Student Activities & Outreach coordinator Stephanie Robb for helping her in the beginning stages of her college education. Sanchez was able to navigate through all the programs, such as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services — with the help of Robb.

In no time, Sanchez was able to transfer to Cal State University, Los Angeles from AHC. However, Sanchez hit a few snags along the way.

According to Sanchez, the first bump in the road came in finding housing, but after a long search she was able to find a place. The second bump in the road came through a respiratory disease — coronavirus.

The 2020 lockdowns due to Covid-19 took a toll on Sanchez, who was far away from family, ultimately leading her through what she described as a dark season.

"There was a time where I was living on my own. It was during Covid, when covid hit. I was really depressed in that season," said Sanchez. "So much had happened that my last hope was God. He spoke life into me and definitely transformed my life for sure."

Just before the 2020 pandemic, a 2019 Pew Research study described religion in the United States as being in decline — Christianity being one of them.

"American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade."

Pew Research Center

But in Sanchez's re-found belief, for everything there is a season. The Santa Maria native used her Christian faith as a means to obtain her bachelors degree in criminal justice at Cal State L.A. and continue her educational path as a student at the University of Southern California.

"Its like it says in Matthew 6:33, “'Seek first his kingdom and the rest will align...,'” said Sanchez.

Sanchez says practicing her faith and belief in God is what led her out of a dark hole, helping her obtain her masters degree at USC and become a social worker.

After graduating this year from USC, Sanchez was able to become an outpatient care services mental health therapist, providing therapeutic services in Los Angeles.

Sanchez says her work helps her with different mental health disorders varying from schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

For Sanchez, she has no problem being open about her faith in God and says her generation shouldn't be afraid to be outspoken about their religious beliefs.

According to a 2020 research study from non-partisan, for-profit organization Barna Group, over the past 2 decades "just one in four Americans (25%) is a practicing Christian." The percentage marks a drop in half of Christians practicing their faith since 2000.

"When you really stand strong and confident with your faith you attract others to want what you have," Sanchez said. "That’s how I implement my faith into my work."

From AHC, to Cal State L.A. and all the way to getting her masters degree at USC, Sanchez thanks God for each transition in her life.

She hopes to one day open her own business where she can use her faith and social work experience to help others.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County
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Bryan Hernandez

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