A Literary Escape! The perfect books for kids and teens during Mental Health Awareness Month

As an avid reader, books definitely have a very important place in my life. That place is typically in my hands at 2:00AM, but that’s a story for another time. As part of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, we had some of our counselors recommend their favorites for children and teens to enjoy. Look closely, these aren’t your typical mental health themed books.


You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland

, recommended by Jennifer Nolley

“‘Dragons come when you least expect them. You turn around… and there they are.’ Worries, fears, anxieties… they are all dragons and they sneak up on most of us at one time or another. Lots of people get them. Even really really good people get them. And sometimes they are hard to get rid of. So what can a young boy with a bad case of the dragons do?”

You’ve Got Dragons is all about how to address anxiety and worry, giving kids coping skills to deal with those feelings.


Blueloon by Julia Cook

, recommended by Jennifer Nolley

“I’m a blueloon. I’m supposed to be a regular balloon, but I’m just not having fun like the others. I’m kinda dull, and I’m kinda flat. My string is tied up in knots. I have a case of the blues…that’s why I’m a blueloon. I’ve felt like this for weeks!”

Depression is normally thought of something for adults, but children can have it too. This book shows them what it all means (as they might not understand depression), and how friends can help them “bounce back.”


The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

, recommended by Frannie Gaeta

“’That’s impossible,’ said twins Jeremy & Liza after their Mom told them they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. “What kind of string?” They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, “An Invisible String made of love.” That’s where the story begins.”

Overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation can be hard for anyone, this books helps  with an children can easily identify and remember how to cope with such hard emotions.


Rabbityness by Jo Empsan

, recommended by Frannie Gaeta

“Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also loves un-rabbity things! When Rabbit suddenly disappears, no one knows where he has gone. His friends are desolate. But, as it turns out, Rabbit has left behind some very special gifts for them, to help them discover their own unrabbity talents!”

Rabbityness celebrates individuality and encourages the creativity in everyone while positively introduces children to dealing with loss of any kind.


The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

, recommendation from Melissa Hays-Smith

Ferdinand is the world’s most peaceful–and–beloved little bull. While all of the other bulls snort, leap, and butt their heads, Ferdinand is content to just sit and smell the flowers under his favorite cork tree.

This classic has been around for 80 years, but the lessons are timeless. Teaching kids about individuality, critical thinking skills, and how to accept how you are.

You might be thinking that I said these were books for teens as well as children. As promised, here are some of my personal favorite YA books that deal with mental health.


The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

This is one of my favorite reads. It takes a completely different look at what happens to those people who aren’t fighting zombies or whatever is trying to end the world. With a close look at dysfunctional families, eating disorders, and general mental health, it’s definitely worth a read this month. ADDED BONUS: includes LGBTQ relationships because diversity is important!


I Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

As someone who does not suffer from schizophrenia, this really opened my eyes to how different it is compared to the stories we normally hear about this condition. I fell in love with the unreliability of our narrator, Alex. Everything you think you know… you don’t.


Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The movie is coming out this month, so read this one soon! As sappy as the trailer may seem, love literally does save Maddy’s life, but love is also what did her in. Confused? Read it.


13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Okay, I know this is everywhere. We wrote about it too. Even if you already binged the show, read the book! It’s a whirlwind of feels and there are just enough differences that it will feel new. Come on, I know you loved it enough to go through it again.

Youth Development Spotlight: LuAnn Leffler

LuAnn Leffler’s passion for helping others can be seen in how many hats she wears here at Family Service. She works in youth development and intake.

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit. “– Charles de Lint

Just like her favorite quote, LuAnn is in the business of looking out for people. With a BA in Education, she’s been working with children and adults for many years. In her roles with Family Service, she is always out in the community assisting the other youth development specialists if a child or teen needs some one-on-one time. Sometimes, a child or teen needs to work something out away from the rest of the group in order to get the full experience of Positive Action, TOP, or our Community Counseling programs.

LuAnn has a particular spot in her heart for children and teens who have been labeled as problems due to “behavioral issues.” She believes that we don’t find out what the underlying issues, the behavior will never change.

“I believe we should love and accept people as they are and where they are. I have a great deal of love for people and enjoy encouraging others to see their full potential and overcome obstacles.”

Local Celebs Stand Up for Mental Health

Last night was an amazing night for mental health in the Roanoke Valley!

At Celebrity Tip Off, the community raised $56,000, which goes directly to helping our neighbors heal invisible wounds.

Thanks to you, people in our community can get the help they need when and where they need it.

Speaking of invisible wounds, #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth is around the corner and everyone is talking about it.

Prince Henry shared his story with the world and ever since more and more celebrities have been speaking out for the first time. Some celebs, like Demi Lovato, Jared Padalecki, and Lady Gaga re-voiced their stances to end stigmas and further grow mental health awareness.

At the 2017 Celebrity Tip Off, with an abundance of local celebrities in my arsenal, I turned the question to a few of our famous waiters to discuss how mental health has impacted them and why they speak up.


Sheriff Tim Allen knows his jail is the largest mental health facility in the area. That’s because it offers intense “in-patient” services. He also knows that it may not be the best place for such services, stating it’s not as clinical as he would like.

But let’s get real, it’s better than not addressing the issue at all, which is how many people with severe mental illness end up in a continuous cycle of incarceration. Sheriff Allen hopes to prevent that from happening.

A local program through the Sheriff’s Office acts as a discharge planner. Those leaving incarceration with mental health issues have services to make appointments, get prescriptions filled, and find housing. The purpose is to get them back into society won’t be so difficult.

Fun fact: Sheriff Allen’s mom used to work for Family Service as an in-home health aide. Seeing her do the job every day helped inspired Sheriff Allen to keep working for mental health.


Lynda Foster’s grandfather has bipolar disorder and the stigma of speaking out has always hit home for her. She says when we break our foot we let everyone know we need time to heal. When someone we know has cancer we rally around them.

For someone who suffers from a mental illness, there is such a stigma that it prevents many people from asking for help. Lynda believes that everyone should have the ability to share their whole journey. That’s why she advocates for mental health. Lynda said It’s important to make people more aware and de-stigmatize the issue because so many people need help.


Grayson Goldsmith believes that things like depression and anxiety really does touch all of us.

“Literally, I don’t know a single person who either:  A. doesn’t know a person suffering from one/both or B. isn’t going through it.”

Humbled by the fact that she is considered a local celeb, Grayson wants to do all she can on any platform she has to bring awareness to this issue because it’s a real problem. Asking for help is incredibly hard and brave. People should be able to get the help they deserve.


If I had to pick a favorite (sorry guys) Chef T’s story would be it. I was honored that she first

told me, then the audience at Celebrity Tip Off that mental illness doesn’t just knock at her front door, it shares a home with her.

Chef T’s daughter is currently in a mental facility after struggling with a string of misdiagnoses spanning over several years. She knows firsthand that mental illness can tear a family apart. She believes, as a society we need to stop tip toeing around the real issue of mental illness and address it head on.

Chef T said no matter the situation, treating mental health can make people more ready for the world or any situation.

It was truly my honor to speak with as many of the celebrity waiters

as I could about what mental health means to them.

The more advocates mental health has anywhere,

from the glitz and glam of Hollywood to right here in Roanoke,

we can eliminate the stigma of mental illness

and begin the process to heal those invisible wounds.

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 help others where they Live, Learn and Play

Local teens recently collected coats and food for other youth in their community. The project through Family Service’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®)allowed them to give back, joyfully delivering donations to the Presbyterian Community Center. They saw how positively they can impact the community.

Your support of Family Service of Roanoke Valley allows us to partner with many outstanding community programs.

Presbyterian Community Center (PCC) has been a force of support and outreach in the community since 1967 and partnered with Family Service since 1996. PCC is one of our original community partners and takes part in all of our youth development programs.  Our mission is to empower and heal and through our collaborative efforts. This allow us to better serve our community.

Within the partnership with PCC, we are fortunate to provide our outstanding prevention and intervention services.

Teens receive Life Skills Programs such as Positive Action, Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) as well as community counseling and therapeutic day treatment.

Teens and program participants complete service learning projects that often involve PCC. Teens enthusiastically support the food pantry by running food drives throughout the year and then deliver the collections to PCC. The staff are always helpful and show participants exactly how and where their much needed donations are distributed. This experience also opens their eyes to the need within their own community and empowering them to be part of the support and relief efforts.

The most recent service project to collect items for PCC was run by the TOP® group at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, which is facilitated by Hannah Whitt and Ana Zuniga.

The highlight was the tour our teens and mentors received, showing them the workings of the pantry as well as the youth center. They definitely felt the service “glow” and upon reflection of the experience with the teens, they could not wait to do more.

Teens are also facilitating a student run media campaign aimed at addressing underage drinking, just one of many programs designed to enrich and educate our communities youth.

Partnered with The Boys and Girls Club of Roanoke Valley and Blue Ridge Behavioral Health, the group of teens aged 11 to 14, is facilitated by Sommer Casto, Youth Development Specialist and dedicated community leader.

The group meets at PCC and plans their service projects with the support and guidance from our staff.  This is a perfect example of the power of our community partner efforts in our collective endeavor to empower our youth and provide service to our community.

We are very proud to be partnered with Presbyterian Community Center for so many years and look forward to many more. Thank you for making that possible.

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!