By Cynthia Caraballo
Gary Cesca, a social worker for Manchester High School, is always presented with different types of issues to face, whether with students or other colleagues. My first session with him as a high school senior, with a newfound diagnosis of social anxiety, was nerve-racking. We were in a small room, and there were a lot of little trinkets such as Kinetic Sand, a magnetic sculpture with X’s and O’s, and a magnetic board with the words on the magnets to make sentences. I remember my heart beating fast from all the nerves I had. This wasn’t my first time talking to a counselor, but every experience is different. I remember him asking me if it was okay to record our sessions. At first, I was unsure, but I still agreed. That was one of my first steps in overcoming this. After a few minutes, you don’t even realize the recorder is there. After a few sessions, I was finally starting to feel free. Mr. Cesca does not let anything hold back himself or his students and he will do everything he can to help them overcome and face their issues.
Mr. Cesca currently works with high school students at Manchester High School in Manchester, Connecticut. Many students have gotten connected with him through the STARS (School-Based Treatment of Anxiety Research Study) program. I went through the program and got connected with Mr. Cesca that way. When I was talking with him, he was telling me that the program has ended. I was really surprised by this news and I was curious to see if there would be another type of program to be put in place of STARS or to make it a permanent program. He has helped many students cope with anxiety and continues to help more high school students who struggle as well. One of the questions I asked him was, “Where did you go to school and what was your major?” His answer fully surprised me. “I attended UConn, and started out as a marketing major and when I graduated, I ended up in sales selling office equipment, sporting goods and pharmaceuticals. After a while, I didn’t feel fulfilled with my major. I began to explore, did mentoring, job exploring, and volunteering. I then went back to school to study to be a social worker. I took some jobs working in youth centers. I received my original degree in 1981, and Masters Degree in 1999.”
What my readers should know is how one person can make an unexpected positive change on your life. I wasn’t expecting social anxiety to affect my life at school, work, and home the way it did. I never had the courage to talk to anyone about stuff that I was going through, but when I was connected with Mr. Cesca, I was able to talk through a lot of my issues. I used this feeling that I had to ask my profile subject “What is the hardest part of your job?” Mr Cesca answered, “The hardest part of my job is when there are barriers in helping kids to be successful. For example, with your anxiety I was able to help it. Family, school, commitment to change are common issues. People stay stuck and can’t move forward.” There are many times when I felt like I was stuck and had no idea how to move forward.
I have a strong belief that we meet certain people for certain reasons. Some are here to stay in our lives and some eventually go. Mr. Cesca was one of those people I was glad to meet because I started as a nervous high school student, and now I am a freshman in college, doing better than ever. Given all the obstacles I faced and issues I had, he was always willing to help and gave me the best advice he could, even when I was in the wrong. I have to say, he is one of the easiest people to talk to and will always be there to lend a hand when you need one. This led me to ask him “Why did you decide to come to the high school setting?” He looked around and said “As I explored the social work field, I was going back to school myself, and barriers for people were not having education. I saw how important it was for people to have choices. In high school, people are finding who they are. This is my niche.” Outside of Manchester High School and being a social worker, Mr. Cesca says he is usually “Spending time with family. I have a 12 year old son, who is very active and takes his sports very seriously. I like to be outdoors, hiking, biking, golf, walking the dog, gardening. I also enjoy reading, learning, and watching historical shows on T.V.” He also calls himself a “lifelong learner.”
It really interested me to know that Mr. Cesca chose to be in the high school setting, so I asked him “What is it like to be a social worker in a setting such as this one?” He answered with “In my training program, they taught us to “do social work in a whole setting.” Sometimes you can feel alone, and my favorite thing to do is be an advocate for students who need it. It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time. I feel energized by students. I think it’s good for my health to be around young people.” Nearing the end of my interview with Mr. Cesca, I asked him my final question – “What might someone be surprised to know about you?” This question took a lot of thought – he furrowed his eyebrows and took a few minutes to really think about it. He then raised his head and said, “In the second half of my life, when I look back on the first half, I see that I was very conservative and buttoned up around things. I believe the real me is a hippie in disguise. The me that I know now would’ve hung out with totally different people. I see myself as an emerging hippie. I feel like a lot of the world’s problem could be solved by being kind to others, really simple things.”
Course: ENG 101 Composition, Fall 2018
Instructor: Daniela Ragusa