Welcome to Lena’s Look-In, a monthly edition featuring Vista’s CEO Lena Wilson; offering her expertise, insight, and personal experience on issues that impact the families and children we serve.

Lena’s Look-In

REDEFINING HEROES: Vista staff during the pandemic

February 22, 2021

Thanks to broader media representation, kids today know that heroes come in all colors, sizes, and shapes. They know that a hero is not defined by muscles or a cape, but rather by their character and commitments. They know that the most defining trait of a hero is their internal drive to help other people, no matter the circumstance. In 2020, the title of hero expanded to include the millions of healthcare workers, childcare providers, grocery store staff, and so many others who put their lives on the line throughout the pandemic.

At Vista Del Mar, our entire staff is comprised of heroes, each one bravely stepping up to ensure the wellbeing of our residents, students, and families. Below are just a few examples of those individuals who put the needs of Vista families and children before their own.

Our Vista Medical Center is open 24/7, providing pediatric and emergency care to residents and students on campus. As the pandemic began to take hold, Director of Vista’s Health Services, Nurse Nicole Ontiveros, acted swiftly to identify and designate quarantine areas in the event of an outbreak. Because of her efforts, preventative protocols were established early on for all essential workers during the mandatory stay-at-home orders. The entire Vista medical team shared that they feel honored to have a supervisor as dedicated, loyal, and kind as Nicole.

There are too many heroes to name in our Handler and SCF residential units, but I will start with SCF Youth Development Counselor, Mark Walker, whose warm nature and preparedness helped keep residents feeling at ease and safe. Mark was always at the ready with hand sanitizer, PPE, and a reassuring smile hiding underneath his mask.

YDC Mark Walker makes sure Vista residents have everything they need.

From our Handler residential program, we recognize April Employee of the month Shemaiah Avery and May employee of the month Robert Hamilton. Both staff members exemplified Vista excellence by providing non-stop support to our residents. From video game contests to comfort food buffets to decorating the halls, our entire residential staff members have gone to great lengths to uplift the residents’ spirits. In commemoration of their efforts, one young resident even painted a portrait depicting each staff member.

A collection of staff portraits painted by a Vista resident.

One of the biggest challenges for children and parents has been the switch to distance learning. Before COVID-19, many Vista students did not have the proper set-up at home for remote learning. Thankfully, we have individuals like Quincy Robinson, a school support staff member who volunteered to drive to each family’s home to deliver lesson plans, provide Chromebooks, and set up designated learning spaces. As far as keeping kids engaged in the virtual classroom, Educator Leah DeVeyra motivated her students by offering prize incentives (that she purchased) to award for online participation.

Vista Educator, Leah DeVeyra knows how to inspire our students

There are dozens of stories across our agency of Vista employees providing exceptional care when our families needed it most. Wraparound team member Melissa Flores volunteered to go to sessions in person to assure families had enough groceries, could pay their rent, and had the proper capabilities for distance learning. Sonia Corzo, a Professional Developmental Coach from our Home-SAFE division helped set up proper lighting in a family’s home so that they could continue to have sessions and learn remotely. From our FSSM division, front desk staff, Mariana Guzman, Lesley Morales, and Nathalie Vorgeack were the first to return on-site, sustaining a warm presence as they greeted and directed clients. Another extraordinary example of Vista excellence and commitment comes from our Supervisor of Adoptions, Chantilly Wijayashinha MSW, MPH who spent an entire 24 hours staying by the side of a birth mother during her delivery.

Supervisor of Adoptions, Chantilly Wijayashinha after providing 24 hours of support to a birth mother.

Throughout our agency, I see a proverbial cape on all 500 of our employees, each of whom has dedicated themselves to providing crucial support and services to vulnerable children and families who now, more than ever before need a hero by their side. Thank you, Vista staff, for once again redefining what a hero is.


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