Lisa Burt-Parkhurst, Program Manager for Laraway’s Backpack Program, recalls her grandmother, Evelyn, with great fondness. Lisa believes success is relational---if one person believes in you, it can really change your life.
“For me, it was my Gram. She showed me unconditional love,” Lisa says. “She believed in me. My father passed away when I was young and my grandparents gave me a piece of land.” This land hosts a plentiful stand of maple trees where Lisa, her husband, and young adult son live and operate a family sugaring business.
Lisa actively supervises Backpack’s case managers, each of whom juggles multiple families’ complex dynamics on their caseload. Backpack supports children experiencing barriers to academic achievement---capitalizing on child, youth and family strengths---while promoting positive social, emotional and behavioral growth. By extension, Backpack supports families to foster overall stability. Lisa also makes herself available for a check-in or targeted advice to frontline staff working with individual students.
“I’m a problem-solver,” Lisa says. “I’m good at finding solutions to problems that come up. I really try to be a good support for my staff. I want them to know I’m there for them.”
Lisa’s path to human services was not a straight line. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, intending to be a teacher. Upon graduation from college, teaching jobs were few and far between.
“I branched out and applied to Laraway for a case manager position,” Lisa says.
She acknowledges today that she wasn’t entirely sure of all the job would entail. Hired by Substitute Care, Laraway’s therapeutic foster care program, in 2007, Lisa acknowledges it took her a full year to really learn her role, in all its complexities. A cookie cutter approach does not work with youth in foster care. It was incumbent upon her to piece together support services for traumatized youth on her caseload, services that, hopefully, eased their transitions to adulthood. She also developed a sense of how the legal system operated in relation to youth in state custody.
Eleven years later, Lisa has advanced her career at Laraway, assuming roles in Backpack which included PBIS Analyst, Case Manager, Assistant Consultant, and now, Program Manager for Tier III Services. She’s presently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Psychology with Applied Behavior Analysis.
It is often said that one does not choose to work in human services but, instead, human services chooses one to work in the field. Empathy, patience, perseverance and hope are required to best serve kids and families experiencing myriad challenges.
“I realize I’m just really good at it,” Lisa says. “I grew up in poverty, with a dysfunctional family---so I get it. I understand. I lived it. I have developed therapeutic ways to manage my past. I have goals. I’m forty-seven and I’m still working toward my goals!”
Lisa shows compassion and understanding towards her family of origin. Adopting this healthy stance is core to healing and making peace with one’s past.
“Has my family grown?” Lisa asks aloud. “Yes. I think I was able to help them grow.”
Thank you, Lisa, for helping the children and families we serve heal and grow while serving as an inspiration to up-and-coming staff.