Meet Melissa Webster, Director of Programs at One Hope United!
What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?
I am a Director of Programs. My programs are Centralia Residential, Centralia Group Home and, as of January 13, 2018, I direct the Lake Villa Residential Campuses.
I started working at OHU on February 22, 1999. Next month I will celebrate 19 years with this organization. Ironically, I married my husband on February 5, 1999. It was a great month!
What sparked your interest in this career field?
This is a long answer!
As a 7th grader, my science teacher brought in a Time Life Book, “The Mind.” I was fascinated by it, mostly by a photo of drawings of a cat by an artist as he lapsed in to a more and more dramatic schizophrenia diagnosis. I was fascinated by the way the mind works. Also, ironically, as an only child, I had always dreamed of living in an orphanage. I wanted my parents to be there too, I guess they would have been house parents or something. I just felt I wanted to be surrounded by other kids. A neat story is about 10 years ago we received a copy of that same Time Life Book as a donation. I was sharing with one of my tougher kids at the time the story of when I first read it. He wrapped it up and brought it to my office: he said, “You should have this. It inspired you.” I still have that book in my office as a reminder. And I get to work at not one but two children’s homes: life came full circle. I am blessed.
In college, I studied public relations and journalism. My parents discouraged me from studying psychology, I don’t think they understood it. My first work was in marketing with a travel company. It was a great job for a young person – I traveled all over North America personally and professionally – but I genuinely felt something was missing. I did some deep self-discovery and determined although I had never been to therapy, I wanted to be a counselor. I wanted to make the world a better place. I earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling. I worked with people living with HIV/AIDS initially, then community mental health, crisis work and SASS before taking a job at the Edgar County Children’s Home as a therapist. We merged with Hudelson/Central Baptist and I found my way to lead the Centralia Campus in late 2004. I loved working with kids and families, watching them grow. Now I still get to enjoy that, but love working with my campuses and teams, helping them to develop and grow. I will always be grateful to Ann Pearcy and Becky Newcomer: they saw the potential in a therapist who had interned once, to lead more than 80 team members. I am also grateful that Margaret Vimont and Becky have trusted me with the Lake Villa campus: I call it the crown jewel of One Hope United.
Why are your programs so important?
Residential and Group Home Care are important because so many youth need more care and supervision than a single home can provide. We work hard to help youth heal from past trauma, learn new and better skills in this world and send them back into the world. We serve youth who are so hurt and broken: it is critical that we reach them, offer them hope and help them see their place as a productive citizen in our culture.
Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?
Where do I begin? I have nineteen years of stories! I love seeing our kids thrive, whether it be immediately after they leave or years later. I love talking to my kids who were taken away from abusive parents or caretakers now successfully raising their own children. I love having a youth reach out to me via Facebook or a telephone call to tell me about a new job, a pregnancy or finishing school. Many kids over the years stand out: I am so proud of them all.
Now, I take great pride in the success of my team. With my recent addition of responsibilities to direct the Lake Villa Campus, several of my team in Centralia have now been promoted and taken on additional responsibilities. I have many people in Centralia that started very close to their 21st birthday, many with no college degree, who are now Mental Health Professionals in Illinois due to their experience with us. Some have started and finished both bachelor and master’s degrees! I have supervised several therapists so they could earn their licensure in Illinois.
My greatest success is when youth, families and team members say they have hope as a result of their work with us. (If you would like to chat, I have a lot of stories 😊)
What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?
Many, many things excite me about my role. My world changed dramatically as of January 13 of this year. I am excited to see my team mature, grow and develop in Centralia. I now am responsible for our Lake Villa campus, and initially, will spend much of my time in Northern Illinois. My Centralia team is amazing, learning to lead without me right there. In Lake Villa, I am excited to get to know the team better, to learn this program and to work with both team to propel both campuses to greater trauma informed work and treatment of youth. In Lake Villa, it is our goal to open a group home to serve a new population of boys, and I am thrilled to help shepherd a new program from vision to reality. I love a challenge, and 2018 looks to be full of them!
On a final note, I want to share my husband and I are donors to OHU. We give generously because we believe in the mission and the value of the work of our organization.