Mercado attended Rio Salado part-time from 2010-15, and earned a certificate in addictions and substance use disorders.
Since graduation, he has been working as a counselor and behavior coach. He also decided to return to school to earn a college degree to further his career.
“I had recently applied to a university to continue my education, but was slow in my steps,” Mercado said. “After seeing the billboard, I felt that it was more than just a sign but a ‘sign’ for me to continue my education.”
Mercado’s journey to Rio Salado hasn’t been easy, but other signs pointed him in the right direction.
“I choose a career in chemical dependency after the path became apparent while working at a treatment center,” Mercado said. “I saw that my own life experiences were very helpful in connecting with at-risk youth.”
“I use my music background as therapy, whether it’s teaching youth how to DJ, or using music as a coping skill, Mercado said. “Music is a great healing tool.”
Mercado was going through a period of personal turmoil in the late 90s, which caused him to fall into addiction as a means of comfort.
In 2003, Mercado was in New York City when he blacked out one day, and fell head first to the ground. He split open his forehead and needed more than 300 stitches to close the wound.
“Afterwards, I sunk deeper into depression, substance abuse and high-risk behaviors,” Mercado said. “I didn't know it at the time but this was the start of a spiritual experience that lifted me from the pain.”
About 9 months later, Mercado made the decision to change.
“Each day now I live my life based on my new foundation,” Mercado said. “I have repaired some relationships. I am grateful for each and every experience, whether positive or negative. And even though I still face troubles, the doors continue to open.”
One of those doors was Rio Salado College.
“I chose Rio Salado because the program fit into my schedule,” Mercado said. “At the time I was working very long hours so being flexible with my time was very important.”
In addition to the at-risk youth he works with, Mercado hopes to inspire others who may be facing challenges in life.
“If you are struggling in life, know that change can happen when you realize that pain is temporary,” Mercado said. “Having self-awareness leads to making better choices.”Mercado’s next choice is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“Seeing the billboard has lifted and inspired me to continue my education and finish strong,” Mercado said, although he still gets a chuckle from it.
“It is still an unreal experience to see my face up there,” Mercado said. “I get messages from so many people I know in Phoenix. When I have a visitor from out of town, I take them to the billboard and we get a super kick out of it!”
By Rio Salado Communications Coordinator Mira Radovich
Are you ready to begin your educational journey? Classes start Monday! Visit www.startatrio.com for a step-by-step guide on getting started at Rio Salado College.