Apr 2, 2009

The Work of Keeping Children, Families, and Community Healthy

Virginia “Virgie” T. Cantorna, R.N., Psy. D.: "The Work of Keeping Children, Families, and Community Healthy"

By Cornelio "CJ" Ancheta
Publisher/Managing Editor, Fil-Am Observer
April 2009 Issue Featured Article

THROUGH the years, Dr. Virginia Cantorna has devoted her two decades of academic and professional career advocating for the protection of children and families. As a clinical psychologist and a registered nurse, Cantorna has touched the lives of people by being instrumental in treating their physical and emotional ailments.

“As a clinical psychologist with the Department of Education, Maui District, I perform psychological evaluation of children from pre-school through high school, provide consultation to schools on difficult and complex cases, and supervise school–based counselors,” Cantorna says. Her years in health services have given her the professional perspective and experience to make good with her commitment to education by making it sure that students under the DOE get all the educational and psychological services they need.

“I’m actually looking for emotional and behavioral disabilities like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, ADHD and other mental and psychological conditions affecting school performance. In being able to spot these issues and identify them among the student population, DOE would be able to provide the needed services to them. The end-goal, of course, is the improvement of learning outcomes,” Cantorna explains.

Through her long years of involvement with the DOE and her long years of exposure to the Kahului area, her assigned workplace, she has come out with a crucial and sensitive understanding of the needs of the student population in this area. Kahului’s demographics is a key factor here: the place is predominantly Filipino. She has found out that a large rate of Filipino children has problems in school—and these problems involve anxiety, cutting (self-infliction), substance abuse, and anger issues.

Cantorna mentions two major factors explaining why children are prone to these situations that stand in the way of student performance.

Firstly, the media glamorize certain issues such as cutting. Parents and teachers become alarmed because of the potential for accidental suicide.

Secondly, Filipino parents, generally have at least two jobs. This need for parents to put in more work hours away from the home reduces their contact hours with their children, thus the hours for supervision and care are normally reduced or, in some cases, done by others if not totally absent. This leaves the children fending for themselves when no adults are left to take care of them.

In many cases that children are left with their immigrant grandparents Cantorna has observed that these children may tend to be defiant. The grandparents are routinely not heeded, and are rendered helpless in managing their grandchildren.

As part of her work with the DOE and as a parent herself, Cantorna shares this piece of advice to parents, “Parents should be aware that children need attention and supervision. Giving material things to children in exchange of spending quality time with them is not necessarily wrong. However, it may reward negative behavior. I have seen this over and over again. This is the scenario: A parent says to his misbehaving child that if he behaves in school he gets a new car. The child behaves in school for a while, gets his car, and after that he’s back to his usual self and might even run away from home and indulge in illegal substance. This is very critical; parents need to know when to give rewards. Have the children earn their rewards by keeping curfew, respecting others, following, rules, and doing chores and homework.”

Cantorna’s commitment to the cause of equipping the school children of Maui with life-long skills and the need to address the issues of the community had led her, with three other Filipinos, Cornelia Soberano, Kim Compoc, and Jeny Bissel, to form the Maui Filipino Working Group (MFWG).

The MFWG hopes to address the shared concerns on the socio-economic conditions of the community and to take action to create change. The commitment is a vision demanding more commitment: the creation of a community that is fair and equitable.

In 2007, the group organized the first workshop on “Improving Cultural Competency: Smart Strategies for Working With Filipinos” with the goal of understanding the values and culture of the Filipinos and why they are not accessing available services due them.

“As Filipinas, we have particular sensitivity to the problems facing our community,” Cantorna says. “We focused on care providers for Filipino families with the intent of reaching out to them, a manner of reaching out that is culturally competent, and culturally sensitive.”

MFWG has been actively participating in activities geared towards stopping domestic violence. Cantorna’s take on this community issue is univocal along with others fighting for women’s rights—a take she wants to inculcate to the community, including her daughter: that any form of physical or verbal abuse should never be tolerated and be reported to the police authorities. She believes that women are not possessions nor objects and that they deserve honor and respect.

Cantorna finished her Master of Arts and her Doctor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University (formerly American School of Professional Psychology), Honolulu in 2003 and 2006, respectively. She also earned her Master of Science Degree in Nursing (Administration) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu in 1995.

Aside from her work at the DOE, she serves as a psychotherapist at Aloha House, Inc. in Wailuku where she is referred clients from Family Court/Drug Court She is currently an instructor at Argosy University and was a part-time educator of the University of Phoenix (Maui campus). For a time, she was Director of Nursing of Maui Memorial Hospital and Kula Hospital.

For her selfless and professional involvement with the community, she was recognized as one of the Outstanding Filipinos of Maui during the Filipino Centennial Celebration in 2006. In 1996, the Maui County Council awarded her as “Outstanding Community Leader” for her leadership in restoring Kepaniwai Park.

Virgie, as her friends fondly call her, is married to Alfred Cantorna. Her husband is the Director for Goodwill Employment and Training in Kahului. They have a daughter, Emily, an honors sophomore at Baldwin High School.

Born and raised to parents who worked in the plantations—Ramon and Valeriana Dagdag from Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, both deceased—Virgie is proud of her Ilokana heritage and hopes to pass this pride on to her daughter.

Because of her work—and because of her commitment to pursue what is best for the community, Dr. Virgie Cantorna continues to make a difference for the people of Maui. Of the Filipinos, she says, “I would like to see more self-esteem among Filipinos. I would like to witness—more pride in what we are. It’s sad to say that some of the third generation Filipinos don’t even acknowledge the heritage they come from. If we lose this pride in our cultural roots; we also lose our sense of self, our sense of identity. This is an irreversible loss for our diverse community.”

She believes that to pursue this end, the various Filipino organizations have a hand in making it certain that our people will never lose sight of where they come from. This sense of community, she believes, includes a dynamic sense of organizational leadership that is not focused on politics and personalities but on vision and mission.*

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