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AF spouse chooses happiness, success at Cannon

Jennifer Higareda, master level social worker and Air Force spouse, sits at the front desk Oct. 14, 2015 at the Gentiva Hospice at Clovis, N.M. Since arriving at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., from Florida more than six years ago, Higareda earned her licensure as a master level social worker and cultivated lasting personal and professional friendships within the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

Jennifer Higareda, master level social worker and Air Force spouse, sits at the front desk Oct. 14, 2015 at the Gentiva Hospice at Clovis, N.M. Since arriving at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., from Florida more than six years ago, Higareda earned her licensure as a master level social worker and cultivated lasting personal and professional friendships within the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series highlighting exceptional members of the Air Force family in honor of Military Family Appreciation Month.

“A place is what you make of it.”

Whether affiliated with the military for one year or 20, every member of the Air Force family has heard, and probably repeated, this pre-Permanent Change of Station mantra. It calls Airmen and their families to rise above rumors, negative stigmas and preconceived notions to deliberately find happiness at whatever installation they call home.

After more than six years at Cannon, Jennifer Higareda, a master level social worker and Air Force spouse, can attest to the validity of this tried and true saying. Having moved to Clovis from her native Florida, Higareda overcame her initial feelings of displacement to forge a rewarding life for herself and reach new heights in her professional career.

“I’m a Floridian, born and raised,” Higareda said. “When marrying into the military, I was apprehensive of the lifestyle. The prospect of joining the military community was exciting, but also an intimidating unknown.”

Not one to put the cart before the horse, Higareda ensured her undergraduate degree was complete before marrying and opening herself up to possibility of relocation, a decision that proved insightful when little more than a year into their marriage, the newlyweds received orders to Cannon.

“By the time we received orders I felt secure in my education and confident that I could find employment,” Higareda said. “I really embraced our orders with an open mind and my husband, knowing that he had my buy-in and support, felt better about the move as a result.”

Though her outlook had been overwhelmingly positive, Higareda’s excitement waned significantly after arriving at Cannon. Coming from waterfront views and condos to a small town on the high plains of New Mexico was a contrast that proved difficult to come to grips with.

“It was extremely tough when we got here,” Higareda said. “For one, you’re away from your family, so you’re adjusting to that, and when we first drove into town I was thinking ‘Oh my goodness, where have we come?’ It was a very stressful time. It took me a good year to acclimate.”

As time went on, the Higaredas settled into their new environment and began forming friendships and cultivating professional relationships. While Tech. Sgt. Marco Higareda, currently a 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 17 instructor, settled into his role as an Air Commando, Jennifer Higareda found employment at Cannon’s Airman and Family Readiness Center.

“Ultimately, what helped me most was being open to meeting people and socializing,” Higareda said. “It’ll take a while to get adjusted to totally new surroundings and people, but it’ll happen. Even my career path changed when I began work as the Discovery Center manager at the AFRC.”

Higareda, who had earned her degree in a general field of study, found that she was passionate about working with and helping military families. Through the mentorship of coworkers at the AFRC, she decided to return to school to pursue a more definitive degree that would enable her newfound aspirations.

“Because my bachelor’s degree was in a very basic field, I thought I would be able to get a job wherever I might go with my spouse,” Higareda said. “But working with military families and meeting spouses, active duty members and veterans through the AFRC led me to think about what I could do to work at a higher level and provide greater assistance.”

Higareda found the answer to that question in the form of a degree in social work. She is now a full time employee of the Gentiva Hospice in Clovis and provides counseling and guidance to community members who are in need of emotional respite and support.

“I have the licensure to help these families cope with end of life care or planning,” Higareda said. “I try to guide them in any way that I can because a lot of times, we may not know what to expect when someone is passing away. I try to provide that educational piece while simultaneously taking care of emotional well-being.”

Over the last several years, every aspect of Higareda’s life has undergone a transformation. From leaving friends and family back home to becoming part of the Air Force family and growing into a new career, the move to New Mexico undoubtedly changed her life forever. It seems only natural that Higareda’s opinion of the place she was once apprehensive about would evolve as she did.

“My views have definitely changed a lot,” she said. “First coming into Clovis I was so unsure; however, what I’m taking away from this experience is such an important lesson: The people, and ultimately your attitude, make the place. That’s the single most important piece of wisdom I can impart, and I hope it’s taken to heart.”