Belisa Rodrigues started out quiet, taking time to learn her job and get to know her colleagues. But today, the senior youth counselor enjoys taking on a leadership role on the Germaine Lawrence Campus and leading the Sunshine Committee, which seeks to promote a fun and collaborative work culture on campus.
“She believes in our mission and has never skipped a beat. She’s like Miss YV,” Liz Drude, her supervisor, said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Belisa helped adults with disabilities. She eventually looked for another meaningful job she could turn into a career. She came across a job posting for a youth counselor at Germaine Lawrence and applied.
The Massachusetts campus is dedicated to helping girls with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues, eating disorders, trauma histories or serious mental health issues. The campus provides several specialty programs, including a group home, a Day School for youth who live in the community but don’t do well in a regular classroom environment and a short-term assessment and stabilization program. Staff are assigned to work in “dorms,” most of which are contemporary-style, two-story buildings with kitchens and common areas and classrooms on the ground floors, and bedrooms located upstairs. Most buildings also have staff offices and additional common areas in the basement.
Belisa started out at the campus’ Adams Building. When two programs merged as a building was being renovated, leadership created the Sunshine Committee to help bring staff from the two programs closer together through fun activities that also build trust and strengthen collaboration.
Belisa soon took over running the Sunshine Committee, designing team-building activities and coming up with ways to bring fun and laughter to staff who work stressful jobs and often long hours.
Born in Portugal, Belisa eventually immigrated to the United States. Her Portuguese – and Spanish – skills help greatly with the girls served in her program, many of whom are bilingual and have grown up with families from Cape Verde or Central or South America. Belisa’s language skills and cultural awareness also help her communicate with the girls’ families who often don’t speak English fluently.
“She is very nurturing and patient with the kids,” Liz said. “She’s versatile, does whatever is needed, whenever. Her passion and talents make her stand out, and her ability to speak multiple languages and understand people from different cultures come in very handy.”
A single mother, Belisa’s world revolves around her 3-year-old daughter, with whom she loves spending her time off and for whom she wants to be a role model.
Belisa also has helped refer several other dedicated staff to Youth Villages who are now working beside her at Germaine Lawrence.
“I love working at Germaine Lawrence,” Belisa said, who’s been promoted and works at the Browning dorm now. “It makes me very happy. The good days make up for the tough days. I find it rewarding to watch the girls grow and accomplish their goals. They look up to me as their role model.”