Fresno State graduate student Carlos Mendoza’s experiences inspire him to give back


Carlos Mendoza speaking at the inaugural Frida Fun Run hosted by the League of Mexican American Women at Campus Pointe on October 1st, 2022. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)

By Carlos Rene Castro

Fresno State graduate student Carlos Mendoza remembers the day he and his co-workers had to take away two children from their mother in the hospital due to a drug overdose. 

One of the children tested positive for methamphetamine after being exposed to the substance by the mother. 

Mendoza, an intern social worker, held one of the crying siblings in his arms, questioning if he could see himself in the profession of child welfare.

“Immediately, I said yes,” Mendoza, 39, said. “That’s when I knew I was in the right spot.”

He knew this was the route he wanted to take because he understands the challenge of fighting addiction himself.

For 12 years, the Tulare native used methamphetamine almost daily, staying up for days on end. Mendoza first started using at Fresno State the first time he enrolled.

He ended up dropping out due to his addiction in 2001, and then he went on a downward spiral before realizing he needed to make a change. 

After going through rehab and utilizing mental health services, Mendoza became a prominent figure in his community.

“He shaped the direction and energy of the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” said Suzanna Aguilera-Marrero, former member of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Foundation.

Mendoza always kept his energetic and positive personality. His youthful and charismatic look makes his personality contagious, motivating those around him. He is also very welcoming and approachable with his clean-cut, youthful appearance.

It made sense that he’s now a social worker because of how easygoing he is with people.   

Mendoza not only returned to Fresno State, but he became a Fresno State alumnus, finishing his bachelor’s degree in the sociology department. 

“I am proud of who I am today. I know I don’t have to do anything to please anybody because at the end of the day, if they’re not happy with me, that’s on them,” he said.   

“When I was introduced to the Title IV-E program and what Fresno State had to offer for the master’s program, I felt it was a calling for me,” Mendoza added.

He knew he would return to Fresno State and credits his fraternity and professors for welcoming him back to campus and reviving his educational career.

Mendoza came a long way to return to his alma mater.

He began to use methamphetamine because of the effect it had on his body shape, motivating him to continue using. 

“I saw what it did to me… And I was like, ‘Wow, if this is what it does to me. I never want to quit.’ When I said that, I sold my soul right there,” he said.

As a functioning addict, he could work and provide for himself despite his heavy usage, he said.

After a job promotion, Mendoza moved 165 miles west to Salinas to work at a Sears Portrait Studio, where he eventually became a studio portrait manager.

It was then that he hit rock bottom, forcing him to rethink his life.

Carlos Mendoza reflects on his journey to graduation and past struggles with drugs. The 39-year-old Tulare Native is graduating next year with a full-ride scholarship with a Master of Social Work. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)

During that time, his drug use was at its peak and he was going through a rough break up with an abusive boyfriend after a seven-month relationship. Soon after, he was also let go from his managerial duties at Sears for low performance on the job.

“That was sort of making me realize, ‘What am I doing with my life? What’s happening? Why am I going through this?’” he said.

To get his life back on track, Mendoza enrolled in an inpatient program at Genesis Residential Center, a state-licensed residential substance abuse treatment program for adults 18 and older, in Seaside.

While the program offers eight beds for six-to-10-month stays, Mendoza completed it within four months.

He was introduced to 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, where he found a sense of belonging. 

“I always want to be a part of something. The first thing I came across was something negative,” Mendoza said. 

After finishing the program, he returned to his hometown of Tulare in October 2013.

He continued to work on his wellness by enrolling in mental health services at King’s Views, a mental health facility offering behavioral health programs in cities around the Central Valley. 

Soon after, Mendoza began to do volunteer work for the organization. As a volunteer, Mendoza provided information about behavioral health to community members in an effort to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“I started going out, and that’s when I got a taste of what it was like to give back rather than take from the community,” he said.

With the encouragement from his sponsor, Mendoza decided to go back to school and pursue a college degree again.

In 2016, Mendoza enrolled at College of the Sequoias (COS) in Visalia. He attended a few general education classes, but then he found his passion for sociology after taking a class with professor Catherine Medrano.

“The topic was amazing. I fell in love with it,” Mendoza said.

He graduated from COS in 2019.

It was during his time at COS that Mendoza became involved with the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an organization that helps business development within the Hispanic community for economic benefit.

Shortly after joining the organization, he became president. 

Aguilera-Marrero and Mendoza first crossed paths at a city of Tulare homelessness summit after Mendoza introduced himself. 

According to Aguilera-Marrero, she remembered Mendoza walking up to her and saying, “I want to grow up to be just like you.”

Taken by surprise by his comment, she said she told her assistant to write down Mendoza’s information. From that moment on, Aguilera-Marrero and Mendoza created a bond in which she became his mentor, Mendoza said. 

Through her assistance, Mendoza returned to Fresno State and completed his bachelor’s degree in sociology. 

Mendoza is now an intern at Child Welfare Services, a program offered by Title IV-E Child Welfare Program at Fresno State. He is on a full-ride program scholarship and is graduating next year with a master’s degree in social work at Fresno State. 

According to the College of Health and Human Services website, the Title IV-E Child Welfare Program provides funds up to $18,500 for full-time students for two years. In addition to funding, the program is designated for careers in child welfare and social services.

Saul Salinas, Mendoza’s fraternity brother from Nu Alpha Kappa, encouraged and helped him apply to the program.

Looking to the future as a Bulldog, Mendoza plans to obtain a doctoral degree in education at Fresno State. 

His long-term goal is to return to COS and become a professor in sociology and an academic counselor.

“We all have strength to overcome anything. I’ve gone through abuse. I went through drug addiction. I went through breakups and just having my heart broken. Everything,” Mendoza said. “I did what I did. But the thing is, I’m speaking today as someone that rose from that, and I think I’m nobody special [compared to] anybody else… I want to encourage everybody to find that inner strength and rise from that.”