SponsorAd

Categorized | NEWS

Matching clients of color with therapists of color

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Midway business owner levels the playing field for people of color with mental health and addiction issues

As an adult, Katy Armendariz has delved into how she lost her cultural identity after being adopted from Korea, and she’s working to help others sort through various types of trauma through that lens. (Photo by Jan Willms)

By JAN WILLMS
Katy Armendariz wanted to start an agency that would level the playing field for people of color seeking help with mental health issues, and diminish the disparities between them and the dominant culture.
And so she did.
She started Minnesota CarePartner, located at the old Central medical building at I-94 and Lexington. Starting with a couple of part-time therapists, the agency has grown to 55 employees.
But this did not happen overnight, and along the way, Armendariz has struggled with her own traumas and issues while forging a path forward in building and strengthening Minnesota CarePartner..

Stripped of cultural identity
“I am from Korea,” she said in a recent interview, as she described her background. “My birth mom was homeless and had a mental health condition. She couldn’t parent, so she gave birth and then walked out of the hospital.”
Armendariz was first placed in an orphanage and then foster care, and eventually was adopted by a Minnesota couple.
“There were good intentions, but I was completely stripped of my cultural identity,” she recalled. “They denied any racial experience I had. I was exposed to a lot of comments growing up, and I started to grow very critical of the systems that create disparities between who is adopting and who is being adopted.”
Armendariz noted that oftentimes the child’s adoptive parents did not know how to do their hair, did not know much about their culture, and did not raise them around people who looked like them.

Burn out leads to new business
She attained her master’s degree and became licensed and started working as an Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) worker, then became a therapist. “But I was unfulfilled; it was just a burnout,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in the social work field,” she continued, “so I went out and got my real estate license when I was pregnant with my second son. One week after I had given birth to him, I held my first open house. And I hated it, really hated it. I decided I didn’t want to do that.”
Armendariz was drawn back to the field of social work, but she determined she wanted to provide mental health services for individuals who faced disparities and families at risk of child protection services.
“In Minnesota, 85 percent of child protection services are with families of color,” she said, “in a system that is unfair and unequal.”
Armendariz went out and applied for a business name, got a tax ID and got certified for ARMHS and Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS.)
“I hired a therapist part-time, I made some flyers and brochures and set up a website, and I went out to several counties and told them what we wanted to do. And it just exploded. We now have 55 employees.”

Roots in Recovery
Minnesota CarePartner has a unique outpatient program, according to Armendariz.
“It is not a typical Minnesota model,” she said. “We take a social justice approach, where we validate and support.”
The program reaches out to people where they are, staff meeting with them in their homes or homeless shelters or libraries. “A lot of our clients have been underserved and over oppressed,” she said, “and programs designed by the dominant race don’t always work for people of color.”
As well as addressing mental health concerns, Armendariz’s agency has set up its own substance abuse program called Roots in Recovery. The program, which started last December, now admits 200 participants. The substance recovery, also, approaches things from a cultural standpoint, according to Armendariz.
“We deal with the experiences, systematic and traumatic, that contribute to addiction,” she said. “We take some of the more violent clients who have been kicked out of other programs. We will help them.”

Her own addiction
As Armendariz continued to build her organization, she struggled with her own problems with addiction.
“I was doing payroll, billing, hiring, marketing, clinical supervision and compliance, raising a family and dealing with a lot of unresolved trauma, and I started drinking a lot of wine. It became an addiction. I went to treatment, and it was one of the best things I could have done.”

Coffee Rehab
As the substance abuse program for Minnesota CarePartner took off, Armendariz started planning for a project that could employ addicts as they grew in their sobriety. She wanted to start a coffee house called Coffee Rehab, run and operated by individuals in recovery.
“I did a Kickstarter and found a location on East Lake St. in Minneapolis,” she said.
She had support from her Twelth Ward council member Andrew Johnson, who said the following about her proposal: “For anyone struggling with addiction, knowing they are not alone and getting support from others can make a huge difference. Having Coffee Rehab in our neighborhood is going to help many people on their path towards healthier and happier lives. It’s truly an asset for our community.”
Mayor Jacob Frey and Chef Andrew Zimmern were also supporters. She got T-shirts made. But the location fell through.
“It was kind of a sign I needed to slow down,” Armendariz said. ”Í needed to clean up in any areas where we are struggling.” She said that in a couple years, when her current lease is up, she will look again for a location that can house her agency and the coffee house.

Reflecting community they serve
Regarding her agency, Armendariz said, “I wanted to reflect the community we serve.” She said she looks for staff members who may speak the same language, share a similar background and look like the clients they work with.
“It is hard during a therapy session to have to use an interpreter,” she noted.
It is Armendariz’s hope that Minnesota will make an investment in communities of color, offer more opportunities for clinicians of color and help them get into school.
“We apply the same standards to all people, but starting out I had less credibility and more issues getting off the ground,” she said.
Looking back a few years to when she began her agency, Armendariz said she was not certain she had what it took to run a company. “Who am I, to think I can do this?” she recalled asking herself. “But through the process of recovery and sobriety, watching things fall into place and attracting a great staff, I know I can do this.”
Currently Minnesota CarePartner provides addiction services for adults only, but in mid-September this will include an adolescent program that will help children suffering from addiction. For mental health treatment, the agency treats all ages, including babies.

Exactly what she’s supposed to be doing
Armendariz said initially one of her biggest challenges was retaining staff. “There’s a big staff turnover when you don’t offer PTO or benefits,” she said. She also realized she was doing too many things at once and wearing too many hats. “When you do too many things, you can’t do everything with quality,” she said.
“But now I have an administrative team, a clinical supervisor and staff. I can wear the hat of manager.”
She added, “Being a start-up is really hard. People want to judge you and criticize you, and it is hard to build from the ground up.”
Right now, Armendariz said she feels amazing. “I am in a perfect spot, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing,”
She said one of the greatest rewards she has felt has been seeing a culture at her company that is truly a safe space for clinicians and counselors of color, as well as others. “We have fun.”
“The staff members now stay because they get the mission and they believe in it,” Armendariz said. “Finally, after blood, sweat and tears and being out in the arena, I am glad now things are shaping up.”

Discovery Club