Larissa Valdez remembers volunteering as a mentor in high school, working with an especially challenging student.
“It was a struggle all of the time,” she said. “He didn’t want to do anything; he’s roasting me all the time.” At the end of the semester, mentees would give their mentors a review, and they all had the opportunity to switch if it was a poor match. When the faculty adviser pulled Larissa aside and told her she needed to read her review, she imagined what negative things he might have said about her.
“But what he wrote was, ‘She’s the only one who hasn’t given up on me.’ I didn’t realize the impact I was having on him. That’s what made me want to make those connections with people and sparked my journey to being a therapist,” she said.
Today, Larissa is a child and adolescent therapist at Oaklawn’s Goshen campus, where she’s worked for three and a half years. Most days are spent doing back-to-back individual therapy, primarily with youth 14 to 18. She may occasionally do group therapy, and, of course, lots of paperwork.
Larissa came to Oaklawn straight out of graduate school; she finished her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Valparaiso University in 2019. She had a friend who was working at Oaklawn as a case manager at the time and recommended she come here.
There’s a lot she likes about working here – great health insurance, generous PTO and decent pay for a community mental health center. But even more than that, it’s the culture and the people she appreciates.
“My department is really good at supporting each other, making sure we’re not getting close to burnout and recognizing each other’s accomplishments,” she said. “We’re interested in each other’s lives, we’re not just a cog in the machine.”
And, she appreciates Oaklawn’s community-minded approach to mental health. Here, clients can find connections to resources in addition to services, and sometimes those community resources are enough to divert a mental health crisis.
“It really is more about the community,” she said. “It’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to rely on others and support one another.”