Women’s History Month Profile | Elizabeth Valencia, Joshua’s House Foundation/Angels for Kids and Families On Call 24/7
When she came to the United States 30 years ago from Colombia, South America, Elizabeth Valencia’s plan was to get her master’s degree in public health administration. She changed course when her son, Joshua, was diagnosed with severe autism. He became her inspiration, and she went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Education in Social and Community Services.
“I became a registered nurse to better understand what was going on with my son,” she said. “And becoming a mental health professional gave me the knowledge I need to educate the community about early interventions and talk about the differences between kids who get early intervention therapy and kids who don’t.”
As a Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager Supervisor, Valencia manages cases with a focus on autism and mental health disorders and also develops new techniques and therapies for autism. She was able to get Joshua (now 26), to communicate verbally and in writing at the age of 9, and he eventually graduated from high school with honors.
In 2014, she founded Angels for Kids and Families On Call 24/7, which provides interventions and innovative solutions to children and their families affected by mental illness due to disorders caused by substance abuse and developmental disabilities. The center offers a set of services in collaboration with medical professionals, behavioral therapists, case managers, psychosocial therapists and educators to identify and address factors that influence physical, mental, social, cultural and environmental health.
“My passion has driven me to reach still-unexplored frontiers,” she said. “I truly love what I do, and I like to spread this enthusiasm to my staff.”
In 2017, in an effort to further realize her goals, Valencia created Joshua’s House Foundation, a non-profit that offers mental health services, vocational programs and civic engagement education through innovative techniques for families, caregivers, teachers and mental health providers of children and adults facing a developmental or physical disability. Services cover 11 counties, including Orange, where the services are offered bilingually.
“It’s ‘mental health education through civic engagement,’” she explained. “I see kids when they start treatment with us and get the right intervention at the right time, and when I see them again months or years later, their lives, and the lives of their families, have been changed for the better. Making this kind of difference makes you feel like you’ve truly accomplished something good.”
Valencia’s ultimate goal is to have the entire region educated about mental health issues, and in order to accomplish this, her organizations do a great deal of outreach and education. The message to residents is to reach out as soon they see the first signs of something wrong with a family member, not until the more significant signs show themselves.
“Many people don’t know how to deal with this within a family dynamic,” asserted Valencia. “Early intervention is critical, and that’s the message we want to spread. In the end, we want disabled people to be recognized as part of our society. People are more open to talking about mental illness now, and receiving treatment in a timely manner is paramount.”
For more, go to Joshua’s House Foundation and Angels for Kids and Families On Call 24/7.