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Becoming a ‘Village Builder’ Amidst Childhood Trauma and Uncertainty

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Posted on April 5, 2018 by By Dr. Kathy Wu, Delaware Valley University assistant professor of counseling psychology.

Courtesy: Dr. Kathy Wu Left-Top: Lynsey Reiss, Rebecca Kornberg, Raphael Alfaro; Left-Bottom: Cristina Carosiello, Angel Saysay, Marc Juliano. Absent from picture: Brian Mullan, Kathy Wu.

When Ms. Angel Saysay, MSW, arrived as a guest facilitator for Trauma Counseling, a graduate counseling psychology course I teach at Delaware Valley University, an air of calm and maternal-knowing instantaneously quelled a frenetic atmosphere brimming with the chatter of students. 

Ms. Saysay visited my class on Monday, March 26. The students had just arrived at this three-hour evening class after yet another week of providing mental health services to clients as psychotherapists-in-training, completing course assignments, putting the final touches on their Senior Capstone Portfolios, and setting the groundwork for their post-graduation professional and personal plans. 

Ms. Saysay dove right in and the students held onto her every word. She provided an overview of her professional and personal journey, which brought her to work as a seasoned social worker. She is currently the service coordinator at Youth Service Inc.’s (YSI) Youth Emergency Service (YES) in Philadelphia where she provides direct counseling to youth (ages 12 to 17 years old) in crisis or experiencing housing insecurity. YES promotes the social and emotional development of the youth using the Sanctuary Model, which is a theory and trauma-informed, evidence-based care system that aims to provide corrective emotional, relational, and environmental experiences to individuals in crisis. 

Ms. Saysay, referring to her clients as her “children,” talked about the rewards and challenges that come with working with historically marginalized, underserved youth, who are survivors of childhood interpersonal and community traumas, while also coping with the perils of adolescence. She has adopted a “theory of change” that encompasses moving the youth from a state of anger and hopelessness to forgiveness and self-love. 

Ms. Saysay described her therapeutic approach as that of a “village builder,” who collaborates with her clients to help them feel more connected to their communities and support networks. Community support is especially important, as childhood traumas often lead individuals to feel isolated and wary of other people’s ability to keep them safe. 

Students engaged in deep reflection with the guest speaker and said they were inspired and enlightened by her work as a village builder. 

“I immensely enjoyed having Ms. Saysay come to our class to speak,” said Cristina Carosiello,  a DelVal graduate counseling psychology student. “Not only was her genuine nature evident, but her calm demeanor and positivity was such a breath of fresh air! One takeaway I got from our discussions with Angel was that every person, from every walk of life, deserves to feel hopeful. As a counselor, it is our job to help clients find the hope in their lives and assist them in reaching their goals. I hope we will have another opportunity to speak with Angel again.” 

Rebecca Kornberg, a DelVal graduate student who is currently working in the counseling field and preparing to graduate, agreed. 

“It is invaluable to be able to have a conversation with a seasoned professional about her experiences in the field,” said Kornberg. “I believe that trauma counseling calls for a very special will to act. I was completely inspired by Angel Saysay’s passion, insight, and commitment to her work with at-risk youth. Looking forward, I hope my professional path will one day cross with Ms. Saysay’s.”

The students certainly have a lot to aspire to in Ms. Saysay. In addition to being a village- building social worker, Ms. Saysay is the author of "Gratitude to Greatness: 40-Day Journal Strengthening Your Gratitude Mindset to Live a Life of Greatness." She is also an entrepreneur who runs the Single-Parents Ah-ha (S.P.A.) Moments Creative Life Coaching organization and is a community organizer, a mother of two, and a grandmother.