Youth Villages stories

Ellen posing on cliff

Ellen Bermudez​: Service and compassion

Jul 6, 2021 | Blog

Ellen Bermudez has a soft spot for the underdog and those she suspects may not get “a fair shake” in life.

It was her big heart that eventually led her to become Youth Villages’ first staff occupational therapist for the whole organization as part of a new Integrative Services Department led by Clinical Services Director Katherine Peatross.

“These services are designed to meet the needs of youth who have unique service needs,” Katherine said.

Specifically, those could be youth diagnosed with some level of autism or other intellectual or physical disability.

“The decision to add an OT to the department is the result of understanding that more traditional cognitive-behavioral approaches (which work through accessing the cortex) are not as effective for some of our youth,” Katherine added.

In addition to OT, the department also includes neuropsychiatric services in residential (NPS labs) at Bill’s Place and Inner Harbour.

Although she is a native Memphian, Ellen’s arrival at Youth Villages took a circuitous route. Like many, she began college unsure of any career direction. She just knew she found satisfaction in service.

“I feel like I’ve been a little all over the place,” Ellen said of her journey since graduating in 2007 with a degree in religious studies from Lambuth University.

There is a distinct thread that runs through and connects all of Ellen’s experiences: a calling to help others overcome obstacles and live life to the fullest.

It began with two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Nashville following graduation and led to five years in Nicaragua working in health care promotion for an underserved population.

A team of visiting occupational therapists exposed Ellen to the profession in Nicaragua and she eventually returned to Memphis to earn her Master of Occupational Therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences.

As an OT, she worked at the disability services nonprofit SRVS and the trauma hospital Regional One Health in outpatient rehab prior to joining Youth Villages in March 2021.

“As an occupational therapist I’m really focused on people’s ability to fully participate in their lives,” Ellen said. “I’m really drawn to working with people who I feel like don’t get a fair shake in life.”

Ellen’s role, in collaboration with other staff, will be to conduct global trainings for direct care staff working with children with sensory processing challenges, autism and intellectual disabilities to promote their independence, confidence, well-being, and successful participation in meaningful daily activities.

For Ellen, joining Youth Villages is both a daunting and exciting experience.

“For sure, both,” she said. “A big part of the draw for me is the OT role in the mental health setting. This is where the roots of the profession are. This gives me the opportunity to really hone in on OT’s foundation.

”It’s exciting to be a part of supporting this population so that they can do the things they are expected to do, need to do and, most importantly, the things they find meaningful and help form their identity in a positive, healthy way.”


The Brief

Ellen Bermudez

Q: What’s your superpower? I’m painfully aware of being human; it helps me relate to each child I work with. In each of their struggles, I see a little of myself.

Q: Podcast. Bound books. Audio books. If you must pick one, which one and why? Podcasts. I consume gross amounts of podcasts. (Current Favorite: The Happiness Lab)

Q:  Something about you that may surprise your colleagues? If I could have any other career, it would be a wildlife conservationist.

Q: A food you just could not imagine living without. Kwik Chek (A Midtown Memphis Korean and Mediterranean deli)

Q: Some place you have never visited but hope to someday and why. The Galapagos Islands to see the most biodiverse place on earth!

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