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Melissa Kulenski

1165

Bold Points

1x

Nominee

1x

Finalist

1x

Winner

Bio

Hey, I’m Mel! I live with my wife, our two foster teens, and our 3 dogs. I’m a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) with my Master’s in Social Work (MSW) and my BSW. Social Work isn’t just my career, though: It’s my calling. In August 2024, I will be beginning a 3-year Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) program at Kutztown University. This has been my life’s dream — and I’m thrilled it’s coming to fruition! Right now, I’m a Mental Health Therapist at a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) serving youth with emotional challenges. I’m passionate about my work — and I want to continue to gain the education necessary to become a leader and change agent in youth mental health. My experience is broad: I have been a social worker at multiple local LGBTQ+ community centers, mental health settings, and social services agencies. I have an eclectic skillset. In addition to providing therapy, I also am skilled with case management, service coordination, advocacy, grant writing, fundraising, program development, public speaking, and graphic design. I’ve even had my writing published in a book and newspapers! I’m a great scholarship candidate because I follow through. I’m a motivated, academic powerhouse who has graduated Summa Cum Laude from multiple colleges and can ensure every cent will be spent dependably. Also? Life is short and I want to live it fully in a way that imparts change on the next generation. There’s a lot of pain in this world — especially for youth who have been through untold traumas. I am all too familiar with it. This education will help me help others.

Education

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)
2024 - 2027
  • Majors:
    • Social Work

Aurora University

Master's degree program
2021 - 2022
  • Majors:
    • Social Work
  • GPA:
    4

University of Valley Forge

Bachelor's degree program
2015 - 2018
  • Majors:
    • Social Work
  • GPA:
    3.9

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)

  • Graduate schools of interest:

    -
  • Transfer schools of interest:

    -
  • Majors of interest:

    • Social Work
    -
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Civic & Social Organization

    • Dream career goals:

      Starting a nonprofit organization focused on providing LGBTQ+ youth with affordable mental health and social services.

    • Clinical Mental Health Therapist

      Bucks County Intermediate Unit
      2023 – 20241 year

    Sports

    Bowling

    Club
    2000 - 20022 years

    Research

    • Social Work

      Student
      2021 – 2022

    Arts

    • Multiple Organizations: SAGA Community Center, NJAC, National MS Society, William Way LGBT Community Center, Philly Reunion Project, Spectrum of Solutions, and more

      Graphic Art
      2017 – 2024

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      SAGA Community CenterFundraising, Grant Writing, Program Development, Marketing, Advertising, Support Group Facilitation, Advocacy
      2019 – 2022
    • Volunteering

      National Multiple Sclerosis SocietyVolunteer
      2021 – 2024

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    Entrepreneurship

    Mental Health Empowerment Scholarship
    Who knew that my mental health and sexuality could be friends? As a lesbian living with obsessive compulsive disorder in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain that was heavily conditioned by society: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect.” Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental health was suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. I do yoga and meditation. I proudly take Effexor to manage my obsessions and compulsions. And I’m married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We’re now living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife and I also have two LGBTQ+ foster teens. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. My dream is to one day start a nonprofit organization that provides affordable mental health and social services to LGBTQ+ youth. Did you know that LGBTQ+ youth face increased health disparities and higher suicide rates than their cisgender, heterosexual peers due to social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination? I won’t mince words: LGBTQ+ affirming care saves lives. My experiences as a lesbian with mental illness is why I advocate for equitable mental healthcare in my community and beyond. My struggles have helped me devise unique strategies to increase other’s equitable access to care. I’ve worked, volunteered, and interned at multiple LGBTQ+ community centers in Pennsylvania, performing duties ranging from facilitating therapeutic support groups to educational workshops about LGBTQ+ equity for businesses, nonprofits, and faith communities. I’ve helped organizations learn how to affirm transgender people’s pronouns, as well as comforted gay youth who have just come out to their parents. As a trauma-informed, neurodiversity-affirming, and LGBTQ+ affirming therapist — I live to break barriers to accessing care and help LGBTQ+ youth thrive despite jarring mental healthcare disparities and high suicide rates. As a parent of LGBTQ+ teens, this is a personal calling as much as it is a professional one. That being said, living with mental illness isn’t a cakewalk. It’s important to prioritize mental health, including as a student. While I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days or inquire about potential deadline extensions on specific assignments — I have gained more of the tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. We can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves first, right? This scholarship would be another asset in my toolkit by helping to alleviate financial burden and allowing me to concentrate more closely on the work I’m doing for my community — the same community that has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. My mental health and sexuality have learned not only how to befriend one another. They’ve learned how to work together to impact the world.
    VonDerek Casteel Being There Counts Scholarship
    Who knew that my mental health and sexuality could be friends? As a lesbian living with obsessive compulsive disorder in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain that was heavily conditioned by society: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect.” Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental and physical health were suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma therapy, and am now doing Safe & Sound Protocol therapy. I do yoga and meditation. I proudly take Effexor to manage my obsessions and compulsions. And I’m married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are now living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife and I also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. My dream is to one day start a nonprofit organization that provides affordable mental health and social services to LGBTQ+ youth. Did you know that LGBTQ+ youth face increased health disparities and higher suicide rates than their cisgender, heterosexual peers due to social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination? I won’t mince words: LGBTQ+ affirming care saves lives. My experiences as a lesbian with mental health challenges is why I’m in the field of social work. My struggles have helped me devise unique strategies to increase other’s equitable access to care. I’ve worked, volunteered, and interned at multiple LGBTQ+ community centers in Pennsylvania, performing duties ranging from support group facilitation to LGBTQ+ equity workshops for businesses. As a trauma-informed, neurodiversity-affirming, and LGBTQ+ affirming therapist — I live to break barriers to accessing care and help LGBTQ+ youth thrive despite mental healthcare disparities and jarring suicide rates. That being said, living with a mental illness isn’t a cakewalk. While I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days — I have more of the tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. This scholarship would be another asset in my toolkit by helping to alleviate financial burden and allowing me to concentrate more closely on the work I’m doing for my community — the same community that has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. My mental health and sexuality have learned not only how to befriend one another — they’ve learned how to work together to impact the world.
    Tim Watabe Memorial Scholarship
    Winner
    How many 30-year-olds can say, “My parents died a year apart”? It’s a statistical lottery I never entered nor wanted to win. My mother died of a heart attack in April 2020, followed by my father dying of the same ailment not long after in 2021. They were married for over 40 years. They were also my whole world. It’s a nightmare I could not and cannot wake up from. Watching them lie motionless on their deathbeds in the same hospital—a year a part—has fundamentally changed my view of life. Of people. Of existence. Before their losses, I was ironically more fragile and unforgiving. I’d be perturbed for weeks by a mere dental crown or mechanic visit for my car. Negativity and cynicism were my best friends. Never before had I encountered an “unfixable” problem. All things were fixable, and former me saw all things as problems. Then suddenly, I was faced with a most profound dilemma that blew any previous problem out of the water: Discerning what to write on my parent’s gravestones. Etched stone words that will survive well past their human years… and mine. How can a daughter plan her parent’s funerals, let alone stomach such an eternal decision? I was humbled. The permanency of death slapped me sideways. It allowed me to zoom out of my main character syndrome and place the world into perspective. The loss swirling all around me was suddenly magnified in a way I wasn’t fully unconscious of before. I’d seen other people’s loss — but did I really listen? Did I truly empathize? Now, I could. I had ears to listen to both Earth’s griefs and joys. Now, I can see that not everything is a problem. Many things I’d faced pre-parental-deaths were “fixable” inconveniences at best. Glasses became half full, and more importantly, I’m strong enough to fill them higher. Somehow I had obtained newfound permission to take charge of my own life. Even further, I was faced with a startling realization: At the end of people’s lives, they will all look like my parents did on their death bed. Motionless. Vulnerable. I must treat every person with the compassion that they deserve to be treated with on their last waking day on Earth. I must also live my life in such a way that I possess the least amount of regrets possible. That’s why I‘ve unleashed my inner tenacity these past few years and made a commitment to follow my dreams in their honor. Since their deaths, my wife and I became foster parents to two teenagers. I’ve visited Disney World for the first time in my life. I’ve painted my hair my favorite color (pink), gotten a Pokémon tattoo I’ve always wanted, rescued more dogs, volunteered in a variety of nonprofit organizations, and am working in a field I’m passionate about as a therapist for youth. Finally, I finished my Master’s of Social Work degree at Aurora University with a 4.0 GPA in 2022 and was accepted into the Doctorate of Social Work program at Kutztown University. As a first-generation college graduate, I know my parents are smiling in Heaven. My goal after finishing my Doctorate is to start a nonprofit organization providing affordable mental health and social services to local LGBTQ+ youth — showing them how they can also find community, resilience, and hope in the face of life’s “unfixable problems.” Rest in peace, Mom and Dad. You’d both be so proud.
    Cat Zingano Overcoming Loss Scholarship
    How many 30-year-olds can say, “My parents died a year apart”? It’s a statistical lottery I never entered nor wanted to win. My mother died of a heart attack in April 2020, followed by my father dying of the same ailment not long after in 2021. They were married for over 40 years. They were also my whole world. It’s a nightmare I could not and still cannot wake up from. Watching them lie motionless on their deathbeds in the same hospital—a year a part—has fundamentally changed my view of life. Of people. Of existence. Before their losses, I was ironically more fragile and unforgiving. I’d be perturbed for weeks by a mere dental crown or mechanic visit for my car. Negativity and cynicism were my best friends. Never before had I encountered an “unfixable” problem — all things were fixable, and former me saw all things as problems. Then suddenly, I was faced with a most profound dilemma that blew any previous problem out of the water: Discerning what to write on my parent’s gravestones. Etched stone words that will survive well past their human years… and mine. How can a daughter plan her parent’s funerals, let alone stomach such an eternal decision? I was humbled. The permanency of death slapped me sideways. It allowed me to zoom out of my main character syndrome and place the world into perspective. The loss swirling all around me was suddenly magnified in a way I wasn’t fully unconscious of before. I’d seen other people’s loss — but did I really listen? Did I truly empathize? Now, I could. I had ears to listen to both Earth’s griefs and joys. Now, I can see that not everything is a problem. Many things I’d faced pre-parental-deaths were “fixable” inconveniences at best. Glasses became half full, and more importantly, I’m strong enough to fill them higher. Somehow I had obtained newfound permission to take charge of my own life. Even further, I was faced with a startling realization: At the end of people’s lives, they will all look like my parents did on their death bed. Motionless. Vulnerable. I must treat every person with the compassion that they deserve to be treated with on their last waking day on Earth. I must also live my life in such a way that I possess the least amount of regrets possible. That’s why I‘ve unleashed my inner tenacity these past few years and made a commitment to follow my dreams in their honor. Since their deaths, my wife and I became foster parents to two teenagers. I’ve visited Disney World for the first time in my life. I’ve painted my hair my favorite color (pink), gotten a Pokémon tattoo I’ve always wanted, rescued more dogs, volunteered in a variety of nonprofit organizations, and am working in a field I’m passionate about as a therapist for youth. Finally, I finished my Master’s of Social Work degree at Aurora University with a 4.0 GPA in 2022 and was accepted into the Doctorate of Social Work program at Kutztown University. As a first-generation college graduate, I know my parents are smiling in Heaven. My goal after finishing my Doctorate is to start a nonprofit organization providing affordable mental health and social services to local LGBTQ+ youth — showing them how they can also find community, resilience, and hope in the face of life’s “unfixable problems.” Rest in peace, Mom and Dad. You’d both be so proud.
    Jennifer Gephart Memorial Working Mothers Scholarship
    Courtesy of Target, the welcome mat lying on the ground in front of our family’s house reads “GAYEST HOUSE IN TOWN.” It takes on a double meaning for us. Yes, my wife and I are happily married lesbians with two LGBTQ+ foster teens. But we also strive to embody laughter, joy, and hope — cultivating a gay home in multiple senses of the word. In many ways, our family’s life is normal. We have a list of household expectations we’ve devised together. Our teens can earn an allowance when they complete chores. We go on fun outings and vacations, and even have 3 adorable dogs that we dote on. We teach the teens how to pump gas, help them find dresses for their first prom, and help them apply for jobs and colleges. We have a never-ending shortage of inside jokes, silly memories, prank ideas, and even sometimes get side-eyes from people in public for laughing a little too loud. (Okay. Maybe that last part wasn’t as normal.) These experiences have shaped my career goals tremendously. Empowering teens to follow their dreams and chase after all life offers has — unexpectedly — empowered me to do the same. After all, what worth is giving parental advice if I can’t take it myself? That’s why I made the life-changing decision to enroll in the Doctorate of Social Work program at Kutztown University as a full-time, working mother. My dream is to one day start a nonprofit organization that provides affordable mental health and social services to LGBTQ+ youth. Did you know that LGBTQ+ youth face increased health disparities and barriers to mental healthcare access due to social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination? Even further, did you know that LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and face additional, unique challenges? As a lesbian mom of LGBTQ+ foster teens, I have become all-too acquainted with this grim reality. Currently, I am a mental health therapist with a Master’s of Social Work degree working at a school-based partial hospitalization program for children and adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. My career is — and will continue to be — centered on delivering equitable mental health services to marginalized youth. There’s other ways being a mother has transformed me. For example, I have become incredibly proficient at managing the plethora of Google calendar appointments that come with foster parenting: Case workers. Social workers. Life skills specialists. Counselors. Individual therapy. Family therapy. Psychiatrists. Family doctors. Foster family court. Probation officers. Medical appointments. Sports. Church. Why not throw some doctoral-level homework in the mix, too? I’m an academic powerhouse who graduated summa cum laude from my previous two colleges, so I’m ecstatic for the challenge. Plus: I’ll be in college alongside our teens. Watch out, world. Soon enough, there will be family-wide study sessions at the “GAYEST HOUSE IN TOWN.”
    Disability in Social Work Scholarship
    Who knew that my obsessive-compulsive disorder and sexuality could be friends? As a lesbian living with OCD in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain that was heavily conditioned by society: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect.” Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental and physical health were suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma therapy, and am now doing Safe & Sound Protocol therapy. I do yoga and meditation. I proudly take Effexor to manage my obsessions and compulsions. And I’m married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are now living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife and I also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. My dream is to one day start a nonprofit organization that provides affordable mental health and social services to LGBTQ+ youth. Did you know that LGBTQ+ youth face increased health disparities and barriers to mental healthcare access due to social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination? My experiences as a lesbian with OCD will undoubtedly inform my social work career trajectory, allowing me to devise unique strategies to increase equitable access to care that will break barriers I have personally faced. As a trauma-informed, neurodiversity-affirming, and LGBTQ+ affirming therapist — I already do everything with my power to break barriers to accessing care. That being said, living with mental disability isn’t a cakewalk. While I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days, or compel me to send an e-mail inquiring about extensions — I have more of the tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. I even have a loving community who has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of challenges. Most of all: I can be me. There’s nothing more helpful to mental health than that.
    Mental Health Importance Scholarship
    Who knew that my mental health and sexuality could be so intertwined? As a lesbian woman living with OCD in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect.” Any theoretical deviation from society’s standard of perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing painful stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental health was suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. I proudly take Effexor to manage my OCD. I eat more healthy food than ever in my life. (Especially green food. Who knew vegetables could taste so good?) I take a Vitamin D supplement. I even maintain my mental wellness by doing yoga and meditating frequently. I’m also married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are currently living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife is currently doing a crossword puzzle next to me in bed, while our three dogs softly snore beside us. We also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. They are the light of our lives. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work at Kutztown University to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. Mental wellness is crucial for me to become all I’m meant to be—and impact all the lives I’m meant to impact. Sure, I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days, or compel me to send an e-mail inquiring about extensions on tasks — but now I have the tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. I even have a loving community who has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Most of all: I can be me. I now know there’s nothing more important and beneficial for my mental health than that.
    VNutrition & Wellness’ Annual LGBTQ+ Vitality Scholarship
    I had one therapist speculate, “Maybe you’re not attracted to your husband because you don’t do enough foreplay.” Little did she know. As a lesbian woman living with OCD in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015 until 2020. Why? According to my brain: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect”… even at my own expense. Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental and physical health were suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” I had a panic attack after. Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. I proudly take Effexor to manage my OCD. I eat more healthy food than ever in my life. (Especially green food. Who knew vegetables could taste so good?) I take a Vitamin D supplement. I even do yoga and meditate frequently. I’m also married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are currently living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife is currently doing a crossword puzzle next to me in bed, while our three dogs softly snore beside us. We also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. They are the light of our lives. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth in a Partial Hospitalization Program—including those who LGBTQ+. I have my Master’s in Social Work and am licensed in Pennsylvania. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work at Kutztown University to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become a change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. My goal is to eventually start a nonprofit that provides therapy services and resources to local youth. But not just any services — services that are equitable. Inclusive. Services that are trauma-informed, LGBTQ+ affirming, anti-racist, and neurodiversity-affirming. Because I know what the opposite is like. LGBTQ+ affirming services are more needed than ever—especially since studies by Gallup and the Public Religion Research Institute show that 1 in every 4 youth in Gen Z are LGBTQ+, and there are still hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been written in the United States within the past year. I’m going to be the person I needed when I was older. Most importantly, I’m going to show other LGBTQ+ youth that they can do the same.
    Elijah's Helping Hand Scholarship Award
    Who knew that my obsessive-compulsive disorder and sexuality could impact one another? As a lesbian living with OCD in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect”… even at my own expense. Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental and physical health were suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. I proudly take Effexor to manage my OCD. I eat more healthy food than ever in my life. (Especially green food. Who knew vegetables could taste so good?) I take a Vitamin D supplement. I even do yoga and meditate frequently. I’m also married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are currently living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s doing a crossword puzzle next to me in bed, while our three dogs softly snore beside us. We also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. They are the light of our lives. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work at Kutztown University to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. My mental health has undoubtedly improved by my ability to be my true self. Sure, I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days, or compel me to send an e-mail inquiring about extensions — but now I have the one tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. I even have a loving community who has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Most of all: I can be me. There’s nothing more important and beneficial for my mental health than that.
    LGBTQ+ Wellness in Action Scholarship
    Who knew that my obsessive-compulsive disorder and sexuality could impact one another? As a lesbian living with OCD in a heteronormative world, I spent much of my life dating men. I was even married to one from 2015-2020. Why? According to my brain: Straightness was equivalent to perfection. And I needed to be “perfect.” Any theoretical deviation from perfection led to existential ruminations. Anxiety-laced concepts swirled around my head at night, causing stomach churns: Hell. Sin. Impurity. Judgment. Death. Compulsions came in the form of cleansing rituals, bloody lip-picking, and repetitive phrases… repeated ad nauseam. My mental and physical health were suffering. I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, one cold, winter day in 2019 I called my parents and nervously stuttered the bravest words I‘ve ever uttered: “I’m gay. I’m getting divorced. I live with my girlfriend.” Fast forward 5 years into the future. I have been through cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy. I proudly take Effexor to manage my OCD. I eat more healthy food than ever in my life. (Especially green food. Who knew vegetables could taste so good?) I take a Vitamin D supplement. I even do yoga and meditate frequently. I’m also married to that girlfriend I mentioned — who is now my wife. We are currently living in my parent’s home, which I inherited after they tragically passed away in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s doing a crossword puzzle next to me in bed, while our three dogs softly snore beside us. We also have two foster teens, both who are LGBTQ+. They are the light of our lives. I am a clinical mental health therapist working with youth, many who are LGBTQ+. And I am pursuing my Doctorate in Social Work at Kutztown University to become a leader and change agent for LGBTQ+ youth mental health. Mental and physical wellness are two sides of the same coin for me. Sure, I may still have obsessions and compulsions that cause me to use PTO for mental health days, or compel me to send an e-mail inquiring about extensions — but now I have the one tangible tools and skillset necessary to provide relief. I even have a loving community who has helped me learn how to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Most of all: I can be me. There’s nothing more important and beneficial for my mental health than that.