Youth Development Spotlight: Sommer Casto

Sommer Casto is as bright and warm as her name sake. As a Youth Development Specialist, Sommer gets to spread those traits while continuing to fuel her passion for working with kids and teens.

“I know through the Teen Outreach Program and Positive Action I am making a difference in the community.

I want kids and teens to see their full potential and I want them to know that they can reach for their own dreams.”

With dreams of traveling the world (after she finishes binge-watching Scandal, of course), it is apparent Sommer isn’t afraid to try new things. That’s why she loves Family Service. She describes her experiences so far as stretching her to become a better person.

Her favorite moments are when there is a breaking point that leads to connection with the whole group. "It’s after the group has gone past introductions and have just started to get to know each other on a new level. It’s when everyone starts asking questions and caring about what the other members are saying. Each group is different, so each moment is different, but that’s what makes it special."

Sommer has Bachelor’s in Social Work from Radford University. She wants to continue her education with Master’s degree in Social Work, hoping to focus on foster care and adoption. Sommer has followed this career-building advice:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

13 Reasons Why and Misrepresentation of Sexual Assault

For the trendy topics trivia that you may already know:

13 Reasons Why recently dropped on Netflix

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM)

How are those two related?! Stay tuned (ie read below)…but first…

For those of you who haven’t had time to binge watch yet or who haven’t gotten all the way through or read the book…*Spoiler* these topics are greatly related.

Again *Spoilers*, but also Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, suicide.

A little background, 13 Reasons Why was a book before it was adapted to a Netflix series.

The book and show follow the story of Hannah Baker through audio tapes she recorded before she died by suicide. We as viewers get to listen to the tapes with Clay, one of Hannah’s friends. She talks about many people and a few people come up more than once. One of these people is Bryce who is very conceited bully and is a classmate of Hannah’s. At a party Hannah attends, she and Bryce are in a hot tub, and he rapes her.

“I know some of you listening might think there was more I could have done or should have done, but I’d lost control and in that moment it felt like… it felt like I was already dead.”

Hannah’s words sum up how many survivors of sexual assault are treated every day.

They are asked did you say “no”? Hannah did not. Did you fight back? Hannah felt she could not. That doesn’t change what happened to her or make it less significant. She was assaulted. A crime was committed.

Would anything change if she had said “no”? Would anything change if she fought back? I won’t speculate because that didn’t happen in this case.

The producers/writers/actors/TV show makers of 13 Reasons Why made what I think was the ingenious decision not to change Hannah’s experience as depicted in the book for the show.

13 Reasons Why depicts this sexual assault in a way that is more realistic to the lived experiences of many survivors than what we often see on screen.

When we see sexual assaults depicted on TV or in movies, it is usually loud and raucous. There is always fighting. Victims scream “no” and “stop”. The incident goes on for an extended period of time.

With this as the primary way sexual assault is publicly viewed, we, as a society, do not understand that sexual assault is just as often quiet and quick. Though some victims may scream and claw, many victims feel like Hannah…frozen and unable to make a sound or move.

The often inaccurate depiction of sexual assault on TV and film makes us question the validity of some victims’ stories. If it doesn’t happen like we see on TV, was it really sexual assault?

Having only one lens through which we view sexual assault has other negative effects. It certainly explains why many survivors don’t come forward, for fear of being judged or victim-blamed.

We witness this in 13 Reasons Why when Bryce says things like “she came to my party,” “she was in my hot tub,” “she wanted it,” and “she didn’t say no.”

These denial and shaming tactics are often used in real life by news outlets, lawyers, community members, family, and friends of the survivor.


There are many topics that could relate #SAAM with 13 Reasons Why, (which is, by the way, one of the most difficult shows/books for me to watch/read. It is so real, you can’t look away but might  want to.)

The hot tub scene with Hannah and Bryce was a light bulb moment for me. How we see sexual assault being handled in the media does have an effect on how we, personally, choose to assist survivors when they reach out to us.

When an assault happens, the number one thing we need to do is believe the survivor. We need to ask “what do you want to do?” We need to make the wants and needs of our survivors accessible. This does not happen for Hannah when she first discloses, but I think I can only handle so many injustices in one blog post before I start spiraling off on tangents.

Hopefully, we will see more of this “new” depiction of sexual assault as presented by 13 Reasons Why. Hopefully more and more of us can start realizing that—as with many things in society—sexual assault doesn’t have to fit into a media-defined standard for it to be valid and deserving of compassion, justice and healing.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, even if it has been some time ago, and would like to seek counseling, please Contact Us.

If you have an emergency, call the SARA Crisis Hotline at 540-981-9352 and find out more at SARA online.

Youth Development Spotlight: Sofia Martinez

Sofia Martinez, Youth Development Specialist, fills a room with positive energy. Helping others has always been part of her life.

As a social work student at Radford, she is working with local children and teens through Family Service’s Teen Outreach Program® and Positive Action. Her favorite part of spending time in schools and after school centers is watching youth become engaged in their community and give back.

“One of our students had what we call a ‘break through.’ He helped volunteer at a community event that was aimed at providing a fun play night for children with autism and developmental disorders. He was kind, patient and showed enormous empathy and respect. The Youth Development Team was so proud of him and hope we can continue to be a positive and encouraging force in his life.”

It is her passion for children’s mental health that launched her current transition from healthcare to social work.

Sofia started her career as a Community Health Educator with a non-profit community health center. She helped run a teen-focused program focused on educating teens about sexual health and risky behaviors. Her community shared concerns about teens not getting the information they needed to make safe decisions. Through the program, Sofia worked closely with social workers. She said she saw their valuable contribution to the community’s overall wellness.

Moving from healthcare to social work was a challenging transition, but Sofia said seeing the change in kids is worth it.

A self-described reader, writer, and dreamer, Sofia is currently working to get her social work license. She hopes to continue working in communities by specializing in childhood trauma and grief.

Her number one advice for anyone working to help others is something that was told to her when she was younger.

“Don’t stand still. When I was young, I thought this meant physically keep moving and pushing, but what it really means is to keep growing, keep learning, keep doing. Keep caring and don’t lose your passion.”

A Tribute to Social Workers: Grateful to Work with You!

If there is one thing I count myself lucky for it is that I am surrounded by plenty of social workers.

Left to right: Tyler Hower, Jennifer Nolley, LCSW, and Jamie Starkey, MSW

Social workers are the backbone of advocacy. They stare injustice in the face so others can grow. They help people know that they are important. In short, they are awesome humans.

Beyond the job description I just gave you, it’s really how social workers think about everything that makes them special. Allow me to explain.

Social workers always remember that people are people first and whatever they are going through doesn’t change that. They accept and meet people where they are in life right now and help those people work through choices in their own life, instead of deciding what is best for them. Social workers believe people and their decisions matter.

“Social work means recognizing the inherent value of every individual and provides supportive services to help them be their best self.”

– Jamie Starkey, MSW, project director at Family Service of Roanoke Valley

Optimism isn’t the only thing that makes social workers’ thinking process special. They are grounded in reality too. Since they work to combat stigmas and stereotypes, accepting others’ differences is first nature to social workers. They believe it is those differences that make people special. If everyone did that, imagine the world we would live in. For starters, there would be no such thing as an internet troll. Instead, people would protect each other like family.

Social workers teach us that it is so okay to fail. They know pain and suffering are real. They understand struggles and mistakes. We are human and we mess up sometimes. They show us how empathy is supposed to work and remind us to not beat ourselves up about a setback.

“I think social work is unique in that it focuses on a systems perspective. There are all kinds of things that make up a person. So instead of ‘fixing’ a person or one particular thing, we look at all of the experiences as a whole. From large-scale community efforts to advocacy on an individual level, social work looks at it all.”

– Jennifer Nolley, LCSW, Counselor at Family Service of Roanoke Valley

They are strong. They are warriors. They are brave.

I say again, social workers are awesome humans. As Social Workers Awareness Month comes to a close, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you should praise any social worker you know every day. They climb a mountain everyday so more people can enjoy the view.

Youth Development Spotlight: Emily DeCarlo

Emily DeCarlo, LCSW has always loved seeing people, especially children, learn and grow.

“Seeing their resiliency is all the motivation I need,” she said.

Emily joined Family Service of Roanoke Valley as Manager of Community Counseling Programs in November 2016. She oversees community counseling programs in Youth Development like therapeutic day treatment, intensive in-home counseling, Positive Alternative to School Suspension (PASS) Group, and the Parent Aide program. Emily also manages community counseling at the West End Center for Youth, CAFE – Cultural Arts for Excellence, and the Presbyterian Community Center.

In her life before Family Service, Emily worked in a client services organization that focused on domestic and sexual violence as well as a Healthy Families program. Having always worked with youth and young adults, she says that “watching a client become able to manage the trauma they have experienced and become motivated to do different for themselves, their family, and children is remarkable.”

Emily, who is a licensed clinical social worker, finds happiness in the love from the people around her and their laughter. She also lives her life by a quote from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A closer look at the programs:

Therapeutic Day Treatment is a Medicaid-funded program for students whose serious mental health, behavioral and emotional difficulties impair major life activities. Participants are evaluated for the service and may receive individual or group counseling.

Intensive In-Home professionals and family care coordinators focus on recognizing family strengths that can be used to build the solutions that will work for each family.  

Positive Alternative to School Suspension (PASS)works with at risk children to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead of responding with discipline first, Roanoke City Schools are looking for the underlying issues that may have prompted misbehavior from a student. The hope is that by solving the problem, the misbehavior will cease. Family Service of Roanoke Valley is a partner working on this brand-new opportunity.

Parent Aide gives parents struggling with daily tasks of managing home and child care the assistance needed to provide a safe, nurturing environment for their families

Community Counseling offers group counseling sessions to help students cope with daily challenges associated with disruptive home and life experiences that may affect their performance and behavior in school and other environments. Community Counseling is also able to uniquely address tragic events, such as the death of a classmate that may affect a whole group of students.

What is the connection between counseling and eating disorders?

“What you get the patient to tell you

is worth much more than what you tell the patient.”

Counseling—especially through asking the right questions and practicing therapeutic listening skills—can save the life of someone struggling with an eating disorder.

Daryl Smith-Oswald, RD, LD, LLC, tells us in Today’s Dietitian article “Insights From Eating Disorder Counseling,” about a client who described her relationship with her “best friend,” cookies and ice cream.

The girl said she got excited about her best friend every night, but felt disgusted after each binge.

The counselor asked the client what she would do if a human friend made her feel that way. “I would probably dump her!” the client responded.

What a wonderful opportunity to discuss changes after such a power-packed statement.

February 26-March 4 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Family Service of Roanoke Valley wants you to know the connection between mental health and eating disorders.

A person suffering from bulimia, binge eating disorder, or anorexia may be suffering from depression or another mental illness.

Those struggling with an eating disorder can find the support they need.At the heart of treatment and recovery is the person’s support system—whether it’s family, friends, a counselor, a dietitian, or a combination as unique as each individual’s needs.

In the Today’s Dietitian article, five dietitians discuss one major life lesson each they learned working with clients who have eating disorders. 

Each “lesson learned” provides a new angle for how to work with a person suffering from an eating disorder.

Check out the original article and let us know what you think with a comment below!

Spotlight on Intensive In-Home

“80-90 percent of kids we see, don’t have a ‘problem,’ they are just responding to the environment that they are in.”

 Sitting Down with Ennis Fonder

Works with Community Counseling, Intensive In Home Counseling, prevention with TOP, and wherever help is needed.

QMHP-C, bachelor in psychology

Ennis Fonder grew up in Baltimore, exposed to violence and misconduct within the circle of teenagers his age. Instead of associating with these kids, Ennis sought peace. He surrounded himself with friends who, like him, understood that they didn’t need to be getting in trouble in order to have fun and enjoy themselves. Because of his background, Ennis was inclined to work with children and teenagers to help break these bad habits and dig to the root of such issues. Fonder worked as a counselor in Baltimore, then in residential treatment center for teenagers in Charlotte. Two years ago, he came to Family Service, in efforts to work with kids and teenagers on prevention and spread positive reinforcement within the lives of clients.

A Closer Look at In-Home Counseling 

Intensive In-Home Counseling is where Ennis feels he can do the most good– working inside of a client’s own home and community, analyzing each piece of the puzzle. In-Home counseling works with kids and families, in efforts to help solve behavioral and emotional issues at the core. Ennis explains that, 

“The home is where the source of the behavior is and where the source of the problem is, usually by the second session, I sort of have an idea of why the kid is doing what they’re doing.”

“We just want to prevent removal from the home if at all possible.”

Ennis worked with a young, hyperactive, energetic boy, living in a very under stimulating environment. Although he was surrounded by intelligent parents who wanted to understand and solve his behavioral issues, he received the minimum amount of attention and care in his home. As Ennis started working with the boy one on one, he noticed that this child was much calmer and respondent. The issue resided in the mother and his difficult relationship with her. Ennis slowly started to work with the anger within the mother, and the need for attention and love within the child. After some improvement, the family is moving out of town, to be supported by and more connected to external family members, which Ennis believes will be beneficial to both parties.

“Working directly in the home can lead to a happier life.”