From left: Natalie Saldaña-Rivera, Sylvia Rivera, Luis Saldana- Ruiz
For Mental Health Awareness month, Interim recognized the significant contributions of the mental health workforce in Monterey County. In May, Interim presented the David Soskin Compassionate Service Award and the David Soskin Inspiring Hope Award. These awards were established by Marian Penn and William Soskin in memory of their son, Dr. David Soskin, the late Monterey County Behavioral Health Medical Director. Dr. Soskin, who served for three years as the Medical Director of Monterey County Behavioral Health, was a mentor and teacher to staff, and especially committed to caring for the underserved.
The Compassionate Service Award was granted to Luis Saldaña- Ruiz, a Social Worker with the Monterey County Health Department. Luis has consistently exemplified Dr. Soskin’s deep compassion for the neediest and most neglected members of our community.
Luis didn’t set out for social work to become his career. However, as Luis talks about growing up, you learn that caring for others is in his blood. He was born and raised in Puebla Mexico. He fondly remembers spending a year taking care of his ailing grandmother – assisting with cooking, cleaning, errands, and providing care. In 1987, at the age of 20, he emigrated. His transition was not an easy one. His real challenge was the language barrier. Eventually, Luis was able to earn his GED. In 1992, Luis and his wife, who got a job with the County’s youth program, moved to Salinas. Luis continued working and attending school at Hartnell College for 5 years, eventually earning an AA in Business Administration. After obtaining his AA, Luis was hired as a clerk for the County. Before the County promoted him to Eligibility Worker I, he had to take the competitive exam 7 times because of his language barrier. As an Eligibility Worker, he realized that in order to truly help his clients, he needed to understand the context of their challenges. They would come to him with stories of domestic violence, poverty, and trauma. He began to take classes that would help him counsel them. It did not take long for Luis to be recognized for his innate skills for helping people who were struggling with complex problems. In 2002, Luis applied and was promoted to Social Worker III in Behavioral Health.
After almost 16 years of working in that position he decided to go back to school and study social work. In December 2021, he graduated with a BA and will be entering the MSW program at CSUMB in the fall. His long-term goal is to become a Program Manager with Behavioral Health.
Luis feels his early life experiences seeded a deep compassion to help those in need and a work ethic that now serves as an example to others, including his clients. He believes that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to – persistent dedication to your goals will bear fruit.
Luis Saldana-Ruiz exemplifies the generosity of a mental health professional who not only supports family and friends, but coworkers and clients alike.
The David Soskin Consumer Employee Inspiring Hope Award was granted to Donna Gonzales, a Wellness Navigator employed by Interim for the Transportation Coaching Program. This award was established by David Soskin’s family to acknowledge the importance of people who have lived with mental illness and are working to give back by using their story of hope to inspire others. Donna is dedicated to using her own lived experience and journey of recovery to help people with mental illness to learn to successfully navigate the community transportation system.
Our workforce is what makes our programs successful. There were many nominees for these important awards, including both staff from Interim and Monterey County Behavioral Health. Kudos to the entire workforce!