Church youth ministry director takes classes toward UHV master’s in counseling

Nick LaRocca

The director of youth ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Houston is working toward his master’s degree in counseling from the University of Houston-Victoria with several goals in mind.

Nick LaRocca, who will graduate in the summer of 2011, wants to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and enter private practice part time all while maintaining his work with the church.

“I juggle it all because I have an end goal in mind,” the Houston resident said. “I’m doing it to fulfill my God-given potential and for the betterment of my community and family.”

LaRocca previously worked for Spindletop Mental Health and Retardation Services in Beaumont and as an early childhood intervention specialist in Brazoria County before becoming the youth ministry director at St. Vincent de Paul.

As the director, LaRocca coordinates the religious education program for 275 high school students, in addition to managing 25 volunteers who work with the students. During the school year, he organizes weekend community service events, including volunteer work at the Salvation Army and Dunn Center Homeless Outreach, both in downtown Houston.

“Our youth group gains a sense of value and accomplishment through community service,” LaRocca said. “It enables them to put their faith into action and create a social network with others who share their moral values. That’s important in a culture that gives them ambiguous values and messages.”

LaRocca also organizes other events such as camping trips, bowling nights and trips to out-of-state youth conferences, all while working full time, attending classes at the UH System at Sugar Land, and raising a 9-month-old son with his wife, Tricia.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to work in individual therapy,” he said. “I love what I do as director of youth ministry, and there’s certainly an overlap with my current job and what I’m learning in counseling.”

LaRocca is completing a practicum with Weinberger, Black & Associates, a private practice in Houston that provides therapy services for adolescents and families. He helps facilitate adolescent group therapy sessions.

He has sage advice for other students working full time and attending school while trying to raise a family.

“Don’t get discouraged, even if it takes a little longer than expected to get through school,” he said. “After the birth of my son, I had to take two semesters off to support my family, but never discount the value of higher education if you have a dream. It can only enrich and add to your life.”

The UHV Outstanding Student is an online feature highlighting the exceptional students who attend the University of Houston-Victoria. To nominate a student, contact UHV Communications Manager Paula Cobler  or call 361-570-4350

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.