Elia Lonestar didn’t always think that leadership came naturally for her, describing herself as an “observer” and painfully shy in high school. That was before she reevaluated her definition of leadership.
“Leadership is about service to others,” she said. “It’s not about power, it’s about empowering others.” Her dedication to working with neurodivergent individuals and underserved populations helped shape her own definition of leadership.
Now 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. “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,” she said.
She joined BCI in 2018 and since then has crafted meaningful, individualized treatment plans for families and their ongoing journey. “The pandemic has disrupted many people’s lives and we’ve seen more adolescents and adults seeking services for themselves,” Elia noted.
With a mission based on improving access to high-quality treatment options in rural communities across New Mexico, BCI has done telehealth since 2015 and has seen enormous success because families can stay in the safety and comfort of their homes while still receiving high-quality care. Elia said, “One of the best parts about my job is how creative I can get online to engage with my kids. I humanize our zoom interactions, and the possibilities are really endless with these interactions.”
Getting involved with campus ministry and retreats is something 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 some sophomore retreats I was very interested,” she explained. “It was the first time I thought about me as a leader.”
Taking AP Psych and working as a senior peer counselor solidified her interest in working in the mental health field, eventually leading to her Bachelors in Psychology at LMU and eventually her Masters of Education at ASU, and board certification through the BACB.
Elia explained that she would encourage students to get involved in different activities, clubs, jobs, and service organizations that spark their interest. “Every job or experience you have, even the seemingly silly or inconsequential ones, teach you how to approach sensitive situations and how to be present with others,” she said. “Active listening and always striving to be a humble learner is the mindset you need to be a leader.”