Often on our well-being journeys, we find unexpected passions. For some, it may be a new career or education goal. For others, it may be a newfound hobby or a love of volunteer service. But for Rocio “Rosie” Villanueva, one of Hope For The Warrior’s 2022 Warrior’s Wish recipients, it was all of this and more as she found that sometimes the trials and tribulations of life lead us right to where we are supposed to be.
In 2001, Rosie and her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was just 15 years old to live in her father’s hometown of Escondido, California. Three months after arriving in the U.S., the tragic events of 9/11 took place, and after seeing the pain this day caused her new home, Rosie felt the call to serve.
After graduating high school in 2005 and completing one semester of college, Rosie took the oath and enlisted in the United States Army. Rosie chose to become a Bridge Engineer, wanting to be on the front lines but recognizing that she was serving during a time when females were not allowed in combat positions. Immediately after completing her training, she deployed to Iraq in 2006, where she met her unit for the first time.
After serving three years as an active duty soldier and five years as a reservist, Rosie left the Army in 2013. During her service, Rosie suffered a TBI, military sexual trauma, PTSD, and other injuries. While these injuries took a toll on her physical and mental well-being, Rosie remained resilient. She continued to seek help, and through her care with the VA, she was introduced to a PTSD art therapy program.
“I decided to do art because I found it very therapeutic to my injuries,” said Rosie. “I found it really helpful to be doing something with my hands because when I make something, I feel like I can express my emotions better.”
Recognizing the role art played in her life, Rosie knew it was something she wanted to continue to pursue on her well-being journey. Living with her husband who is a fellow Army veteran, and her four children, space is limited in the house to focus on her passion. But after hearing her story and learning more about Rosie, HOPE stepped in and granted her Warrior’s Wish by providing her with a backyard art studio as a place to grow into her craft!
“This shed means a new beginning to me,” said Rosie. “Every time I go outside and see the shed, I see myself in it and picture my future.”
The backyard art studio has not only been instrumental in helping Rosie become the artist she is, but it has also helped her continue to spread the benefits of art to others. For the past four years, Rosie and her children have been traveling to Rancho La Hermosa, an orphanage in Baja, Mexico, to do projects with the children. With the art studio, Rosie now has the space to store all the materials the children need and their ceramic art projects, making her impact even greater!
“When I first went to Mexico, I went with the intention of just helping and never dreamed of connecting this deeply with the kids,” said Rosie. “I started going every three months, and all of a sudden, they all knew me. I know that working in art helps gets some feelings out. I just let the kids play with the clay, and I notice they let go of the pain they are experiencing. That is exactly how I felt when I first started.”
Just as the art has helped Rosie connect with the children at the orphanage, it has also helped the bonds between her and her own children grow even stronger.
“I notice my kids have changed,” said Rosie. “As soon as I started doing art, they picked up on my happiness. My kids say they are proud of me and show off my Instagram page. They just sit with me sometimes while I am doing my art. All my kids see themselves as artists too, which is amazing.”
Intending to teach art to children in school, Rosie is currently in college pursuing her associate’s degree in ceramics. We are excited to watch all the amazing she does on her new path and feel honored to be a part of her success!
HOPE’s Warrior’s Wish Program is designed to transform the lives of service members and their families. Since the program’s inception, Warrior’s Wish has granted 226 wishes totaling more than $1 million in grants. This would not be possible without our generous donors and partners who help us to continue to give back to our warrior community. Please click here to learn more about Warrior’s Wish and how you can get involved or apply!