Incremental Steps on the Journey to Wellness
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active process of being aware and making choices that lead toward optimal holistic health and wellbeing. Recently, we spoke with our Community Counseling and TAY Space teams to learn how Side by Side helps youth learn active wellness strategies and take small but purposeful steps toward wellbeing.

Community Counseling Clinician Hilda Leon, who works with youth ages 4-18, says it’s critical to first establish rapport before working with a youth on wellness strategies. With younger children, Leon provides them with a safe space to play and explore before delving into sensitive topics. “I focus on simply being present with the youth and building trust. If I do that, they will eventually feel safe enough to open up.”
TAY Space Clinical Case Manager Erica Antonio agrees. “I work with youth ages 16-25 who are recovering from trauma, usually after being part of the foster care or criminal justice systems,” says Antonio. “The connection and the relationship is #1 before anything else! Sometimes we will spend 20 minutes just building rapport at the beginning of a session. When I give them the space to just talk, we find the trust needed for discussing sensitive topics.”
While Leon focuses on identifying emotions and talking about them with younger clients, she says that with teenagers, she emphasizes practical and tactical tools. “With this age group, I stress the importance of daily habits such as sleep, eating and exercise.” “Exercise is a huge one!” agrees Antonio, who sometimes meets her TAY clients someplace where they can walk and talk. “The flow is sometimes better when we are walking and moving rather than looking directly at each other. Plus, exercise is excellent for depression.”
Normalizing feelings of depression is a technique both Leon and Antonio employ. “We work really hard to meet each youth exactly where they are,” says Antonio, “and we talk about their depression, how it feels, and how hard it is.” Leon reminds her clients that they are not alone in their struggles, that we are all human, and that we are allowed to make mistakes.
When youth feel discouraged, Antonio and Leon are both quick to remind their young clients of how far they have come. “One teenager was vaping and failing at school,” says Leon. “Now he is passing all of his classes, stopped vaping, and has a job. When we recently reflected on how far he has come, he felt so happy and empowered that he started setting new goals for his future.”
If a youth feels stuck, “we identify something in the past that has worked for them and use that as a basic starting point,” says Antonio. “Self-reflection is a powerful skill,” agrees Leon. “Sometimes things that worked in the past don’t work anymore. But remembering past struggles reminds clients of their strength, and that allows us to focus on moving forward.”
Creating tiny steps and benchmarks is another effective tool. “For extremely depressed youth, something as simple as taking a shower can be overwhelming, says Antonio. “So, we’ll set a goal of taking a shower twice a week.” One youth who lives in TAY Space supported housing is dually diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. “He had very little interest in anything,” says Antonio, “but he loves dogs. So, for now, I simply have him spending time with animals.” The next step will be to volunteer one day a week at an animal shelter, and after that, he might work at a doggie daycare. “He wants to someday get a dog of his own, so we take tiny steps toward that goal.”
Helping youth cultivate what is personally meaningful to them and taking time to do the things they enjoy is an important part of the journey to wellness. One TAY youth is an incredible artist but suffers from severe depression. She now teaches art once a week at the TAY Space drop-in center. “That’s uplifting for her,” says Antonio. “Getting paid and helping others while doing something she loves and excels at are all excellent for reinforcing the positive in this youth’s life and combatting depression.”
Walking side by side through their struggles with providers like Antonio and Leon, our youth are learning tangible tools and techniques to battle depression, fight negative self-talk, become self-aware, and take active steps each day toward cultivating wellness. We are inspired by their strength, and we are grateful to walk with them on their journey.
Find Out What Keeps Side by Side's New CEO Up At Night...
If you missed our Community Zoom townhall with SBS's CEO, Dr. Christine Garcia, and our Chief Program Officer, Larry Woodland, on October 5, you can still access the recording of the event on Zoom (passcode 9-J5GBW#).

Take a peek at the lively and laughter-filled conversation and see where Side by Side is heading.
Passcode: 9-J5GBW#
Save the Date to Support Sonoma County's Counseling and Early Intervention Programs

Thursday, March 10, 2022 from 6-8pm
Griffo Distillery
1320 Scott Street, Ste A, Petaluma