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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Veliz

Three Generations of Healing: A Family's Journey In Behavioral Health

Updated: May 10

WOODBURN, Ore.- Behind every success story lies a foundation of sacrifice, perseverance, and resilience. This story begins with one woman, a mother and grandmother who dared to dream, defy the odds, and forge a legacy that reverberates through her family for generations to come. A journey of three Latinas in one family, spanning three generations, leaving a lasting mark on the behavioral health landscape in the state of Oregon.

Throughout her life, Melinda Avila has closely observed every step her mother, Elida Perales, has taken. Through the years, she witnessed her mother conquer obstacles, defy societal norms, and pursue her aspirations with determination. Elida spent over 20 years as a foster parent where she carried a passion for helping people. As the years went by, Elida yearned for more and decided to return to school. When she did, she was not only a mother, but a grandmother as well. She earned her bachelor's degree, a master’s degree in social work, and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

In many cases, Melinda says, societal expectations dictate that once a woman becomes a mother, your personal goals or dreams must be set aside for the sake of your children. However, she witnessed her mother doing the opposite—while making sacrifices when necessary, she never gave up on her dreams.

“Your kids are watching you,” Melinda says. “The biggest thing we are doing is teaching them, and your actions speak so much louder than words. My mom showed me to not give up on your dreams, even if they have to happen later in life. She has been influential for all the women in the family. She is a quiet powerhouse that she doesn't even know she is.” Today, Elida is a behavioral health therapist and has her own private business. She, Melinda credits, is the catalyst for all that she and her own daughter would achieve today.

Driven by her passion for helping women, and seeking a field with versatile prospects, Melinda followed her mom’s footsteps into social work. By the time Melinda crossed the stage with her master's degree in hand, she too was already a mother herself. Drawing inspiration from her mother's achievements, instilled within her that she too could succeed. These principles of determination and drive are values Melinda has passed on to her daughter, Selia Veliz-Ramon.

Selia’s journey to social work followed a more conventional path. Upon completing her bachelor's degree, Selia felt uncertain about pursuing law school. Driven by her passion for aiding the youth, she chose to follow in the footsteps of her maternal predecessors and enter the same field. She obtained her master's degree at the age of 22.

“I am proof that any of these young students have the potential to pursue higher level education,” says Selia, who grew up in Woodburn, Oregon. Her long-standing intention is to give back to the community that played a pivotal role in shaping her into the woman she is today. “The value of representation matters. This is why dedicating my career to being a resource and advocate for youth within my community, is what I know I am supposed to do.” She hopes to inspire other young Latinas in her community to aspire to greatness and reach for the stars. Today, she is a behavioral health therapist with a CSWA-designation.

Back in 2020 when the wildfires devastated communities across Oregon, Melinda took immediate action. Recognizing the need for crisis support, she established the OYEN Emotional Wellness Center, a behavioral health clinic that offers an array of mental health support, serving the entire state. Today, OYEN stands as a testament to the collective journey of Melinda and her family. Melinda is the CEO of OYEN, Selia is one of their behavioral health therapists, and Elida too has joined OYEN as a therapist at their Salem location. Together, their impact on behavioral health extends far beyond the confines of their family unit.

At OYEN, the trio is dedicated to dismantling barriers to mental health care and advocating for universal access and equality in services. Often at the forefront of tragedies, OYEN plays a crucial role in providing support to individuals who seek solace in their native language. Thanks to the clinic's bilingual and bicultural therapists, individuals are receiving culturally sensitive mental health services in both Spanish and English.

“My mom’s my biggest cheerleader,” says Melinda. “This is something my mom always wanted to do, but that’s where she passed on the baton, to me and me to my daughter. OYEN was my vision, but really, it’s in our blood, it’s who we are.”

Working in the same field enables Melinda, her mother, and her daughter to engage in meaningful discussions about human behavior and gain new perspectives. Melinda often exchanges ideas with her mother, while her daughter does the same with her. They draw strength from each other's insights, with Melinda learning from Selia's perspective, which is more attuned to the challenges of today's youth.

“This new generation is open and inclusive,” says Melinda. “Selia teaches us what we don’t know by not being in that space when we were growing up. All of us are teachers and all of us are learners. And when you are in behavioral health, you have to be open to learn for the rest of your life because it’s about people.” 

For the future, Melinda envisions a shoreline of licensed Latino behavioral health therapists that her clinic OYEN helped get there. She envisions them forging their own legacies, potentially inspiring future generations within their families to follow suit. “When I look back, there are so many more of us now,” Melinda says. “We’re normal people, we don’t have superpowers. We are proof that you really can achieve what you want to achieve.”

She hopes her family's legacy will inspire Latin individuals to chase their dreams, that their story will serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for others, and will motivate individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty and become trailblazers in their families by pursuing higher education, altering the trajectory. Furthermore, she hopes it will encourage mothers to recognize that it's never too late to achieve your goals because it’s not who starts the race, but who finishes it.

“There is no time or expiration date on goals,” says Melinda. “My mom is proof. I was not a traditional student, when I walked across the stage I had three kids. My mom was not a traditional student. My daughter had her master’s by 22. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just go for it.”

For Elida, as she reflects on her journey and her family, she says, “I hope I was a good role model for them. In teaching them that dreaming and applying ourselves will get us to our destination.” Their collective destination has brought them together, reshaping the landscape of behavioral health and inspiring all who encounter their story, one person at a time.

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1 Comment

Magdalena Butler
Magdalena Butler
May 15

Trailblazers. Gracias.

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