Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

Over the past three years, Rosario Ochoa of Napa was challenged to find her purpose, as she struggled to prevent her brother from taking his own life.

Initially, she dropped out of college, not sure what she wanted to do with her life.

But when her brother was diagnosed with a mental illness she soon realized she needed to be educated about mental health. So she returned to Napa Valley College, where she enrolled in the Human Services program coordinated by Professor Hope Scott.

She learned about crisis intervention, shared information with her parents about mental health issues and became focused on earning a four-year degree. She never gave up on her brother.

“I was still listening to my brother, cried myself to sleep at night and was anxious all day, every day, for two years,” said Ochoa.

The third time her brother attempted suicide, he succeeded.

“When he passed away it was like waking from a long sleep and I was trying to catch up with everything I needed to do,” Ochoa recalled.

“I thought about becoming a therapist, but I was already employed by Ole Health, for the outreach department. I decided to become an advocate.”

Rosario got involved in leadership through the Innovations Project, which works to improve mental health services in Napa County and comes up with innovative ideas to create community-based projects.

Scott said Ochoa was able to visualize a successful future through community service and course work at NVC.

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“Rosario was already creating change and helping people, but she came into the classroom so real and vulnerable, ready to talk about her experiences,” said Scott.

“The way she wrote, with honesty and courage, not only helped other people, but also herself, by understanding the importance of using her own experience to empathize with others. By expressing her ideas and feelings, she added to the classroom and the community.”

“Professor Scott told me, ‘You can be something, you can go to the university.’ I had a purpose, I was really motivated,” Ochoa said. She plans to attend Sonoma State University.

When she was recently given an opportunity by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to organize a Napa event that would bring awareness to the community, Ochoa agreed to lead it.

Napa Valley Hike for Hope will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, at Skyline Wilderness Park. Tickets are $15, including parking, breakfast, beverages and snacks.

“It’s amazing to see someone who has struggled do amazing work in the community,” said Scott. “I can’t wait to see what she will do when she goes on to graduate school.”

Ochoa, 28, knows how she wants to live her life.

“This is my purpose now, which is a blessing in disguise. I live for my brother, and I talk about it.”

For details about the hike, call 707-968-7563 or visit afsp.org/chapter/afsp-greater-san-francisco.

NVC Human Services Program information is at 707-256-7220.

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at DErnst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.