Ms. Shari Barmash is a Group Facilitator and Peer Support Specialist for Lee Carlson Center (LCC). In this role, Shari works with students in peer group settings at school.
On July 18th, Shari celebrated her 30th anniversary with LCC, and was kind enough to take the time to let us ask her some questions about her impactful time with us!
Question (Q): What first made you want to do mental health work?
Answer (A): I majored in psychology at the University of Minnesota and had prior work experience with Juvenile Probation Surveillance and Child Protection in Hennepin County. I wanted to be involved with skill building and early intervention. I’ve always enjoyed working with children and was told early on I had the gift of being able to make a difference in the lives of others.
Q: What drew you to Lee Carlson Center?
A: The collaboration of group support in the schools was what attracted me the most. At the time, there was no other program like it. LCC was a leader with this type of programming and we were able to shape the groups around the needs of the kids. It was a one of a kind opportunity.
Q: You were able to know and work with Lee Carlson, the founder of LCC, correct? What was she like?
A: Yes! She was family to all that worked for her. Her door was always open and hugs were part of every day. She was passionate about building her dream and her excitement was contagious to all that spent time with her. She looked to the community to support her ideas and had a very large circle of support. Her family meant the world to her and she was so excited when she and Gary built their lake home so they could all gather together. To say she cared was an understatement. She was involved in all aspects of the clinic and used her voice for good when it came to mental health. I think of her often during the school year when success stories take shape, and know how proud she would be of the clinic today.
Q: In the time that you have been at Lee Carlson Center, a lot has changed! What has been the most exciting change to see over the years you have been here?
A: The expansion and growth has been very exciting for all of us. To have our services available in more than 40 schools and many districts is incredible. This ability to reach so many families who may not otherwise receive the mental health services without this collaboration has my heart full. The success and growth of Bridgeview is heartwarming as this program continues to grow and expand. The current team building and support at Lee Carlson Center is top in the field. Filled with enrichment, excitement and implementation of ideas.
Q: Has there been any specific child/individual and their story that has stuck with you all of these years?
A: For me it isn’t possible to single out one story over the years. Every year whether it be large or small gains are reached among the kids. For some kids, they formed friendships for the first time ever. Kids are learning to manage their anger and bringing these skills home to help parents and siblings do the same. Students that had planned to drop out at 16 are staying in school and graduating high school. I have had hundreds of kids over the years failing 4-5 classes bring every grade up to passing by end of the quarter with the support and encouragement of the group and a concrete work plan in place. Kids have shared in the safety of the group times of being bullied and immediate action was taken to put an end to it. Often group is the only place kids open up about difficult times or circumstances at home. They don’t feel comfortable doing so in a large classroom setting. Group gives them this safe space.
One very touching example of this is a boy I had in group who was experiencing abuse at home. He opened up to me and the others in group about this and we took the next step with county involvement. He was placed in a wonderful foster home, who permanently adopted him a few years ago. He is thriving in school and has never been happier.
Q: Do you feel that kids have changed over your years working with them?
A: Kids are more resilient than ever. They are facing many more obstacles then we had 30 years ago. Homelessness and deportation/separation of families is much higher than years ago. Kids are having to navigate homework at times without help at home due to language barriers and inability to do the work. Kids have many more responsibilities today often having to watch younger siblings while parents are away at work.
Q: In the next 30 years, what do you hope to see happen in the Mental Health world?
A: I hope to see the labels and stigma around mental health disappear. That all will see it’s not only okay to ask for help, but it makes for a healthier lifestyle. I hope continued importance of self-care is realized and is a part of daily living for all. It is so important to take yourself and make it a priority. I hope classrooms continue to work hard on inclusion for all students and are truly a welcoming place of acceptance for all. With that, I hope that teachers will continue training and workshops to be better equipped to handle students with unique needs and challenges.
Q: Thank you so much for taking time to tell us more about your time with LCC! Is there anything you would like to say to conclude our interview?
A: I love what I do as much today as I did 30 years ago. I’m so inspired by the team around me and the difference we continue to make one student at a time day after day. Shaping a beautiful future of today’s youth where mental health matters and kids feel free to speak up about their feelings. Working with vulnerable kids and teens who have no idea of the potential they hold and helping them find their way to success isn’t a feeling I can even put into words. Seeing them reach these goals and tear up with pride is the feeling I will always carry closest to my heart. I am looking forward to many more years.
Shari, thank you for all your compassion and dedication for improving the mental health services in our community!
-Grace Allen, M. Ed