By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Scholarship recipients aim to fill shortage of local mental health clinicians
Linda Stuhmer fellowship
Jeffrey Lewis, president and CEO of EMC Health Foundation, (pictured far left), poses for a picture with Linda M. Stuhmer (center) and the inaugural recipients of a behavioral health fellowship named in Stuhmer’s honor. The recipients pictured from left to right are: Breanna Torres, Sergio Perez, Lina Maria Villegas and Lizbet Delgadillo. Not pictured is recipient Marina Petersen (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Turlock native Sergio Perez now has the financial resources to finish his Counseling degree at Stanislaus State thanks to a new scholarship program that aims to increase the number of mental health clinicians in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

Perez is one of five inaugural recipients of the Linda M. Stuhmer Behavioral Health Fellowship through the EMC Health Foundation. The scholarship program will cover tuition and books for the recipients’ master’s degree or doctorate program in mental health services. Upon completion of their studies, graduates will be required to return to work for three years at a mental health providing organization within the communities served by EMC Health Foundation — an area that includes all the cities south of Modesto in Stanislaus County and eight cities in northern Merced County.

“I always spoke with my friends about helping each other, picking each other up. I thought if I could help people within my own community, I want to see people prosper and succeed…,” said Perez.

The Turlock High alum and Stanislaus State undergraduate is already very involved in the community, coaching youth sports and soon starting a job with the Turlock Unified School District.

Lina Maria Villegas, another scholarship recipient, was just accepted into a Doctor of Education degree program, with a major in Education Concentration Specialization Counseling Psychology at the University of the Pacific. She aims to expand her mental health expertise and use her skills at her current position as a licensed clinician with the Denair Unified School District, a position funded through EMC Health Foundation.

“This program is about changing lives and that’s what I believe in,” said Villegas.

Perez, Villegas and the other three scholarship recipients all share one common trait — the desire to serve their communities and fill the gap of mental health services offered in the Central Valley.

“We created this program because we recognized in the Central Valley we don’t have enough behavioral health specialists, particularly people who are multi-lingual…This is a big deal because we know we are way behind the curve in these communities in mental health,” said Jeffrey Lewis, president and CEO of EMC Health Foundation.

The scholarship program is named after Linda M. Stuhmer, former general counsel for Emanuel Medical Center and president and CEO of EMC Health Inc.

“She has a history in Turlock of doing amazing work that nobody knows about,” said Lewis about Stuhmer.

“I came from a family where I was the first one to go to college, and there wasn’t a program like this. I think I was 44 before I finished paying for my law degree by the time I stretched it out and done all of that because I put myself through school. I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to have that dedication to do that and I couldn’t be happier to be affiliated with a program that’s going to be able to make a difference here,” said Stuhmer.

“You guys have made a stand where you’re committing to help make a difference here…One of the most rewarding things is this is an area where you can see that you’ve made a difference every day. People’s lives are going to better and they’re going to be changed forever because of the actions you guys do,” she continued.

The other recipients are: Lizbet Delgadillo (Modesto), a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Palo Alto; Marina Petersen (Modesto), who has completed two years of her Master of Science in Counseling (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy) at Stanislaus State; and Breanna Torres (Ceres), who has completed her first year of a Master of Science concentrating in Counseling (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy) at Stanislaus State.

To obtain more information about the fellowship program, email