Why I Love My Work – Marissa Wood, Mental Health Specialist at The Centers for Families and Children

We are all thinking about the families and children that are frightened and living apart from each other at U.S. border. We know the first 2,000 Days of a child’s life are the most important, and that the experiences they have during these formative days and years last a lifetime. The children at the U.S. border are experiencing trauma and it is distressing to witness. We also know that mental health problems in children are real, common and treatable. Although one in five children in the U.S. has a diagnosable mental health problem, nearly two-thirds of them get little or no help.

Meet one of our Centers team members who works right here in our Northeast Ohio community with children who have experienced trauma and/or live with a mental health challenge. Marissa Wood is a Mental Health Specialist who works with families enrolled in our early learning program. She is on-call at our early learning program locations. She receives requests for help from parents, The Centers’ teachers and on some days, sees for herself where she needs to spend focused time with a child.

Marissa, tell us about what you do for the Centers team.

As a Mental Health Specialist, I provide clinical support to our early learning children and families. Once I receive word that a child is exhibiting a concerning behavior, I initially meet with the child in the classroom to begin to establishing trust through play. You can learn a great deal from how a child approaches you and engages in play. Once a trusting foundation is established, we will meet outside of the classroom one-on-one to work on social-emotional development and to assist in processing, history of trauma, attachment issues, self-regulation, and behavior concerns through play therapy and art interventions. Play therapy includes a 30-to-60 minute session depending on age, interests, and capabilities. The sessions are child-driven meaning they lead the way with my guidance. Through play the children can utilize animals or dolls to personify their emotions and act out what they may not be able to articulate, giving me an opportunity to model or role play problem solving strategies or relaxation skills. Through art interventions children can utilize different mediums to express their emotions which at times shows more than what they can verbalize.

I routinely meet with the teachers to assist in their professional development by teaching them skills and interventions to support the child in the classroom. I also meet with the family in their home to provide family therapy to address any concerns the child may be having outside of school. We have found that connecting school to home has been extremely helpful.

What is the best thing about your job? Why do you love what you do?

The best thing about my job is the children. Through the time I get to spend with them I have a window into their world which enables me to see the way they process their world.  I value collaboration and the relationships I have with the Early Learning team, children and families. I love what I do because I get to build connections and teach necessary skills  to build resiliency for these children and work to empower their support systems so that a child is safe, loved, and well cared for.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

One of the most challenging aspects of my work is not being able to be everywhere at once. I will be in one classroom or working with a child and another child might be having a difficult day and I am unable to meet their needs or assist the teachers at that time. I do my best to follow up with the child and consult with the teachers to explore possible triggers and additional interventions to support the child in the future.

Who is/are your greatest inspirations in life?

This is a tricky question for me! My grandfather who I call “Poppyseed” has inspired me in ways I did not realize until after his passing and believe he has instilled values that have allowed me to be successful in this line of work. But to date, my greatest inspiration is my son, Henry J, who is only nine months old and carries on my Poppyseed’s legacy through his middle name. Since his birth, I have felt love and joy like nothing before, he inspires me to love and care for the children I work with as if they were my own.


Poppyseed and Marissa on right, along with her sister Lindsey.


Henry J and Marissa.

Fill in the blank: “If we are going to solve the poverty issue in our community, we need to… support and protect our children. Our childhood plays an instrumental role in who we become in life. If we can protect our children from trauma, teach self-help skills, provide social-emotional development, etc. I feel we will have a healthier society and in return decrease poverty.

What is a favorite movie? Why?

Little Miss Sunshine. It is a comical depiction of a family that an average person would think of as “dysfunctional” but their support for each other and strengths outweigh the barriers they face and in the end, they have each other. This movie melts my heart while making me laugh! There are always strengths-even within those who face the most difficult barriers.

Thank you, Marissa for the vitally  important work you do with children here in our Northeast Ohio community. We are so happy to have you on our team!

Join us!  We’re people who care about people. And that’s who we want to hire. Visit NowHiringHeart.org for available healthcare and education positions. #togetherforall