When Sylvana Chavez began her career in 911 dispatch six years ago, she was a stay-at-home mom looking for a field where she could do good for. Now, she’s the Emergency Communication Center Awards Telecommunicator of the Year.

The Rio Rancho resident started her journey in Santa Fe County. She said the application and training process was intense, but her family continued to encourage her through it. “As I began the training process, it was rough. I had my ups and downs,” she said.

But with the support of her family and Ashley Woods, her trainer, she continued on. For the past 2 ½ years, she has been serving at the Rio Rancho 911 dispatch center as a Dispatcher III and certified training officer, cutting out her commute and allowing more time at home with her family.

“As time went on, I developed a love for the job and all the things that came with it … Everything became so important to me. I love coming to work every day,” Chavez said. “It also gives me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before I started this career. It’s been really nice,” she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the dedication to the community and my responders,” she said. “Being there to answer the phone and helping the person on the other end of the line as much as I can, giving responders the information they need to do their job, I like being that person for my community and my responders.”

Chavez is also not shy about crediting those around her with her continued growth in the field, including the award she received in early May during a ceremony in Las Cruces.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside and learning from dispatchers past and present, and I’m extremely grateful for the experience and knowledge that they’ve extended to me,” she said.

In particular, she said, she was grateful for the nomination from Joe Doolittle, a coworker she worked with in Santa Fe and then transferred with to Rio Rancho. She described there relationship as a brother-sister type and that they bounce ideas off of each other and often kid around. “He mentioned he was going to put in a nomination for me. At the time I didn’t believe him,” Chavez said.

But he did nominate her, and she is very appreciative of how highly he spoke of her when doing so. “It means a lot to me,” Chavez said. “It makes me feel like I am making a difference and I am supporting my coworkers and my community and my responders as much as I can.”

Then, she said, she found out from Jolene Madrid, communications 911 manager, and Staci Jaramillo, assistant manager, that she won. “That was pretty awesome,” she said.

“Sylvana has been a huge asset to our department. She was a lateral from Santa Fe Regional and began training new hires once she was released from our training,” Madrid said. “We are fortunate to have her and the two others — Joe Doolittle and Andrew Roybal — who were also laterals and make a big difference here at SCRECC.”

Chavez is also grateful for all the family support she has received during her career. “During this journey, I became a single mom,” she said. “Without my family and the support they have given me, I would not have been able to accomplish the goals I set for myself to move along in this career.”

Recognizing mental health

While Chavez has a passion for her work and constantly works to find ways to improve, the job can take an emotional toll.

“To kind of help with the coping of the mental and emotional side of my career, I don’t like to hold on too much to each call,” she said, especially in a fast-paced environment. “Because our job is consistently taking one call, helping where we can, getting help, and moving on to the next call, I always try to check back and think what can I do better next time or what I can improve and take that to the next time.”

A recent call, however, has stuck with her. “For that call, I did the best I could, tried to utilize all the training and skills I’ve acquired,” Chavez said. “It wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for, but I know that I tried.”

However, through it, she received support from those around her. “It was a warm feeling to me when I had people within our own community in law enforcement stop and check in [on me],” Chavez said.

That’s where she credits the various types of support available in her office. There’s counseling services offered through the employee assistance program, certified peer support workers within each department, including dispatch, and access to chaplains. “There’s a lot of support,” she said.

“I feel within the 911 dispatch career, back in the day, they didn’t look into the mental health and emotional impact in the field. They didn’t fully understand what we do and the toll it can take,” Chavez said. “It’s been brought to light more and is being recognized on different levels, and it’s very nice to know that not only do your coworkers have your back but you have another community that’s behind you as well.

“There’s dispatchers in New Mexico — all over the world, really. I want to thank them and let them know I appreciate them.”