Felicia L. Bush MA, MSW, LGSW
Founder & CEO
Q: Who is Felicia Bush?
Well that’s an interesting question. I am a mother, an advocate, a therapist, a social worker and co-founder of Harmony.
Q: What made you decide to open your own agency?
It was the only way that my co-founder, Amber Davis and I knew to bring our passion for social justice, victim advocacy and direct therapeutic services together under one banner. We learned a lot in our work with marginalized communities (the homeless, domestic violence and sexual assault victims and other victims of crime) and we knew that mental health and social services had to be tailored for these communities. Historical service provision just doesn’t cut it and doesn’t reach those who need it the most. It was an experiment to see if this hybrid, based on a safety and service model could work.
Q: What drew you to this type of work?
My own life experience. In 1999 I was convicted and served time for the crime of embezzlement. It was that experience, and what led to it, that set me on my current path. As a result, I sought counseling and was diagnosed with codependent personality disorder, which for me was in the form of pathological people pleasing. That diagnosis answered a lot of questions for me about why I did the things I did. While incarcerated, I realized that the majority of the women who were incarcerated with me were there due to domestic violence, many had experienced trauma from childhood throughout their entire lifespan. For whatever reason, they were drawn to me and I was honored that they chose to share their stories with me. I knew I wanted to be part of their solution. Over time I also realized that my decisions were impacted by my own unreported, untreated childhood trauma. When I was released I hoped to do two things with my professional life, serve victims of domestic violence and become a therapist. I wanted to make my life mean something for myself and for those who trusted me and who I let down. I am not proud of my criminal past but I am proud of who I have become as a result of the criminal justice system and the good people in it. No one can change the past but advocates and therapists are agents of change and that’s what I wanted to be. Over the years I have shared my story with any client that I felt it would benefit. For those who think the mistakes they made in the past must define their future, I want them to understand that we can become the best version of ourselves. It is a struggle and I falter often but I think my experiences have allowed me to be present in people’s lives without judgement. I have been blessed by having incredible people in my life to learn from, to forgive me, and to believe in me when my own belief wavers. In Harmony, it’s my hope that I am able to be that resource for others in a healthy way. I teach my children that no matter what mistakes we make in life (and I make them every day) only by holding ourselves accountable can we move forward. I often think that had I not been too afraid and ashamed to tell my mother what was happening as a child, I could’ve avoided many of the pitfalls and mistakes that I have made in my life. But I realize that without those experiences, I may not be in this place at this time. At Harmony we don’t judge, we know that fear leads to shame and shame leads to silence which leads to negative coping patterns. Our goal is to create a safe space for clients to overcome whatever barriers they are experiencing and meet their goals for their lives. We can’t always prevent bad things from happening to children but Harmony’s focus on mitigating childhood trauma is a way to assure that children can address their traumatic experiences early in life and gain the coping skills and supports they need to meet their full potential and grow into healthy contributing adults.
Q: Why is Harmony a non-profit, when most agencies are for profit?
To reach the populations we are committed to serving we couldn’t rely only on a fee for service model. We began as a non-profit to be eligible to write grants that would help us further our mission of meeting the client where they are.
Q: What do you think makes Harmony Stand Apart from the rest of the agencies in West Virginia?
I don’t think of us as standing apart as much as I think of us as standing with. We work collaboratively with other mental health and social service agencies in each of the counties we serve to meet the overwhelming need. None of us can do it alone. To that end, Harmony has written many collaborative grants that other agencies can access and benefit from. However, I am most proud of the way we choose to be present for our clients, other agencies and our communities. When someone calls, we respond, period.
Q: Can you explain what the mission statement means to you?
To me it means that we have made a commitment to providing excellence in service and support. To accomplish that we have committed to assuring that our staff are well trained and well supported. That we have infused trauma informed practices in every aspect of our service and our corporate culture. That we meet our clients where they are via our commitment to serving rural areas that have little to no access to professional services, by being present in that community and by offering local employment and contributing meaningfully to each community. And most importantly it means that we value the people we serve.
Q: Through this journey of opening your own agency what would you say is your proudest accomplishment?
That we have created a safe space for our staff and our clients and that remains our number one priority.
Q: You are involved in a program called Handle With Care, can you explain a little about that?
My pleasure. Handle With Care (HWC) is a program that began with United States Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of West Virginia and is the central part of the WV Defending Childhood initiative. HWC is a partnership between law enforcement, schools and mental health professionals and is based on the premise of early identification of children exposed to violence. I am pleased to be one of the many founding members and to serve on the WV Children’s Justice Task Force. We began working on HWC in 2011 and it is now statewide program housed with the state police under the excellent leadership of Executive Director Andrea Darr and her staff. Handle With Care has gained national recognition.
Q: Aside from Harmony, how else do you give back and help the communities you serve?
I participate on State, county and local committees addressing Victims of Crime, Expanded School Mental Health, Multidisciplinary teams and Learning communities. Harmony Directors also participate on many state and local committees. We know that to truly serve our communities we must participate in change on the both an individual and systemic level. In partnership with Handle With Care, WV Aware and others, we train therapists across the state annually on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to expand access to trauma specific interventions for children across the state. Additionally, we provide trainings to schools, school systems, communities of faith and others on creating trauma-informed systems. We answer the call for help from our community and as a result we write collaborative grants and work on local projects to address the needs of the community.
Q: What does the future hold for you and Harmony?
Well, we have grown very quickly and we are now focusing on maximizing our services in existing areas and we have some infrastructure work to complete. A major focus is on bringing several pilot projects to fruition. Stay tuned for our Comprehensive Resiliency Project, a school based project that we believe will become best practice for addressing the (opioid exacerbated) early childhood trauma that is impacting learning at our preschools and elementary schools.
At the end of the day, our priority will always be on the well-being of our staff and on providing excellent service to West Virginia children and families.