Describing herself as an “observer” and painfully shy in high school, Elia Lonestar (’09) didn’t always think that leadership came naturally for her. Her dedication to working with neurodivergent individuals and underserved populations helped shape her own definition of leadership. During our interview, she stated, “Leadership is about the service of others. It’s about empowering others and leading with vulnerability and empathy.”
Now, as a Senior Clinician and Family Experience Clinical Specialist at Behavior Change Institute (BCI), Elia empowers families and individuals by designing patient-centered goals and therapy plans for those that have recently received an autism diagnosis. Elia explained, “I have the privilege of being the first face they meet [in their new therapy journey] and I get to ‘walk’ with them and share this beautiful and colorful world of autism with them.”
BCI has been doing telehealth since 2015, where their mission is founded on improving access to high-quality treatment options in rural communities across the state of New Mexico. New Mexico is one of the few states that has lifted the age cap for individuals to access common available therapies utilized to support an autism diagnosis, such as speech, occupational, and ABA therapy. Elia noted, “The pandemic has disrupted many people’s lives and we’ve seen more adolescents and adults seeking services for themselves,”after recently receiving a diagnosis. Since 2015, BCI has seen enormous success with the telehealth treatment modality because families can stay in the safety and comfort of their own homes while still receiving high quality care, which is imperative during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since joining BCI in 2018, Elia has created individualized treatment plans that are meaningful for these families and their ongoing journey. Elia approaches her telehealth therapy sessions using modern technologies and in a creative way to “humanize” and personalize a family’s experience over Z oom.
She first got interested in counseling and helping people during her time at Carondelet. Getting involved with Campus Ministry and Peer Counseling are two organizations she attributes as some of the earliest building blocks of connecting with people at this deeper level. “I never thought of myself as a leader but when Sister Joanne asked me to lead a few Sophomore retreats, it was the first time I thought of myself as being a leader.”
Taking AP Psych and working as a senior peer counselor solidified her interest in working in the mental health field, which led her to pursue her Bachelors in Psychology at LMU and eventually her Masters of Education at ASU and board certification through the BACB. Elia encourages students to get involved in different activities, clubs, jobs, and service organizations that spark your interest. She believes that “every job or experience you have, even the silly/inconsequentials ones, teaches you how to approach sensitive situations and how to be present with others.” Elia believes that “active listening and alway striving to be a humble learner is the mindset you need to be a leader.”