Gifts to the Almanac's Holiday Fund benefit StarVista and nine other local community-service organizations. StarVistas provides counseling, crisis prevention, educational and other services to children, young people and families in San Mateo County. Its suicide-prevention service includes a 24-hour crisis hotline. Donate now to Holiday Fund.
Story by Lynn Schuette, grants director, StarVisa.
Shari came to StarVista's on-campus program when she was in the eighth grade. While she had a terrific GPA and never posed problems in class, her homeroom teacher referred her because he was concerned about Shari's "invisibility."
In his referral to StarVista, her teacher said: "Shari's grades show a strong student. But I'm worried Shari isn't getting the support she needs to achieve these grades. She's all but invisible in school and sometimes falls asleep at her desk. I don't know if she is depressed. Whatever the case, she needs someone to talk to. I don't know how to draw her out and need your help."
Shari's StarVista counselor worked with her every week, at first talking about "safe" topics like her favorite foods, favorite places to go and slowly advancing into topics like how things were going at home and with friends.
Shari's "shyness" manifested itself in consequential ways at school. She had trouble setting limits with friends at school and she could not ask for help meeting her academic/learning needs.
By the end of the year – after working with her StarVista counselor for four months – Shari finally felt safe enough to disclose her feelings of being suicidal.
It was a good sign that Shari was reaching out to adults, seeking support. It was particularly important because she had a plan that was imminent. Fortunately, the StarVista counselor was able to work with Shari's parents and gather their support.
To ensure Shari would have the support she needed, the StarVista counselor continued to work with her in the counseling program during the summer. Having the continuity in services has been invaluable.
After the school year ended, Shari and her counselor worked on stabilization. They worked on her issues of depression and anxiety as these issues related to suicide. They also began to attend to Shari's feelings of anxiety and talked about how she could advocate for her needs as she was transitioning into high school.
Over the course of a year, Shari's original presenting issue – self-advocacy – diminished. She learned how to engage her teachers, parents and friends to get her needs met.
She has grown tremendously since beginning her work with StarVista's counselor. Once seen as a mouse and often treated like a doormat, Shari now reveals a creative and assertive side – one that is confident in being herself and being seen as the strong young person she is.
She continues to work with her StarVista counselor, exploring her concerns and strengths. She is able to achieve in school without chronic anxiety or stress and is a tremendous contributor to her classes and school community.
• View a video interview with Shari's counselor.
• Go to Star-Vista.org for more information on StarVista.