Fostering Hope and Healing in the School District of Lancaster

The student who is worried about their next meal, the child who must care for younger siblings in the absence of a parental figure, or the teenager who is struggling with thoughts of wanting to end their life: they all deserve hope for a brighter future. When Samaritan Center learned of the need for mental health services in the School District of Lancaster (SDOL), it made sense to begin a partnership with them. The Center saw it as an opportunity to bring the kindness, compassion, and expertise of its therapists into the schools – and it also aligned with the Center’s internship program, giving its interns the chance to gain more hands-on experience as they complete their degree requirements.

For the past few months, Josh Tonkay, master’s candidate therapist, has been working with teenagers enrolled at Phoenix Academy. “There is a real need for counseling in these schools,” Josh observes. “This has been a tremendous opportunity to sit down with these students and be a face for mental health, while teaching them about the counseling process,” he continues. Most of these students don’t have anyone to confide in, nor have they had access to mental health resources in the past. Even more detrimental, many are at-risk for depression and suicide. “We are trying to normalize these conversations about mental health and practice conducting regular suicide assessments,” Josh states. “Feeling like our involvement here in the SDOL might have saved someone’s life is incredible,” he continues.

In other less serious instances, it has been the chance to give someone the gift of processing their emotions and serve as a sounding board for these students. Josh’s presence has allowed them to confide in someone in a nonjudgmental space. “These students are coming in behind on credits, with a strong belief that they are not enough and haven’t done enough. We are here to help them reexamine that narrative and get to a place of acceptance,” Josh reflects.

Not only have the students benefited from Josh’s empathy and expertise, it has also been an impactful experience for him as he’s witnessed firsthand the overlap between systemic issues and mental health. Working in the SDOL has furthered Josh’s own professional growth in a different way from his previous experiences – and it has reinforced and accelerated his ethical duty as a counselor. “It’s not merely about being there for my clients, but also about advocating for people. This is also about doing the long, slow work of addressing the systems and lack of resources in our society,” he observes.

As he concludes his internship and plans for the next steps in his career, he is grateful to have pioneered this internship and set the groundwork for Samaritan Center to create an even stronger partnership with SDOL. Josh’s presence at the Phoenix Academy has been a lifeline to students who are struggling with their circumstances and mental health challenges, allowing them to see new hope for the future.


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Upcoming Programs & Events

North Market Open HouseJuly 12

Join us on Friday, July 12 at 33 N Market Street to celebrate the opening of Samaritan Center North Market. Stop by between 12 pm…

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