PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG
“Working this close to people has forced me outside of myself.”
This is the rewarding thought of gratification that runs through Eliza Patterson’s head at the terminus of every day. The work she had put so much time into had been the most rewarding of her life; she reflected upon the tangible impact her efforts had produced. Her recent experiences had been working directly with teenagers, aged 13 to 26, that suffer from mental illness. Every minute spent with the youth has touched and inspired Eliza.
“Someone wrote about me [after a session] that I had personally helped them regain and foster confidence in themselves, and in relationships with other people. It’s incredible to be a role model for these kids,” Eliza said.
Eliza, a political science major with a minor in public relations, originates from Seattle, Washington and grew up in Storrs, Connecticut. She takes every chance she gets to return to climb and photograph the majestic Cascade Mountains.
Her goals at Marist have become refined in her four years of study. Now a senior, Eliza’s pursuits of a Master’s degree in Public Administration are nearly rectified. A daunting feat, the rigorous program seeks to condition fresh and innovative future leaders of public and nonprofit institutions. The Tarver Internship Program opened the door to nonprofit work for Eliza. Mrs. Marie Tarver, a prominent leader within the Hudson Valley community, and her husband Rubert, an adamant contributor to the civil rights movement are renowned in the tri-state area for their accomplishments.
The program honors their memory by providing housing, a sizable stipend, and tuition credits to students working with nonprofit organizations in the Hudson Valley. Freedom to completely design her internship initiative led her to MHA, an organization that routinely aids the homeless struggling with addiction or another of the myriad of mental illnesses that plague Dutchess County residents
Eliza Patterson's Childhood Image
"Mental illness can be debilitating, even if you cannot see it. Recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, and suicide early on can make a major difference in people’s lives."
Staff members and volunteers of MHA and its affiliates often work with teenagers and young adults. Carefully-constructed teaching curriculums hone life-skills, goal-setting abilities, and bullying-aversion tactics. Eliza got experience on both sides of the operation: the management and design side, as well as the hands-on portion of the operation. “You must understand what happens on the base level in order to properly take on administrative duties. You will be a stronger leader if you can empathize with and truly understand your subordinates,” Eliza said.
Eliza Paterson has been serving as role model for teenagers in the Hudson Valley dealing with depression, homelessness, and mental illness through her internship with Mental Health America. She dedicates large amounts of time to music, through her membership in Sirens, Singers, and simply blasting tunes on the road. She also is an avid photography hobbist, frequently returning to her former home of the Cascade Mountains in Washington to hike and capture the beauty of nature.
Her work with MHA did not cap at the ground level. After becoming a trusted confidant of the administration, Eliza took part time control over administrative duties. Currently, she serves as the Program Specialist for the Teen Challenge and Young Adult Program. Planning curriculums, scheduling recreation activities,and recruiting volunteers are all in a day’s work.
College peers of Eliza had forseen her potential to lead long before her assuming a hierarchical job. Meghan Brennan, a senior accounting major, recounted her experiences with Eliza at the helm; whether it was taking charge of a housing unit at Marist or leading her friends around a party, she ceaselessly made those around her feel comfortable. “I think controlling the elements around her helps her figure out her own life. Her loud, vibrant personality command those around her,” Brennan said.
While their mutual friends went out to have fun, Eliza spent sleepless nights grinding away at her graveyard post in the library. Had it not been for the sounds of late-night Netflix binging emitting from her room, they might have thought she moved out.
Dr. Melissa Gaeke, an advisor and personal mentor to Eliza, also took note of her immense dedication to her craft. “She is an incredibly focused individual. Leaders that can communicate clearly in spite of complex topics are incredibly effective at setting directives and resonating with people,” Dr. Gaeke said.
As Dr. Gaeke pointed out, passion must drive leaders in the nonprofit industry. Her biggest advice to college students is to attend training seminars that they may not think are particularly significant, but may end up helping people in a severe way. “Mental illness can be debilitating, even if you can’t see it. Recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, and suicide early on can make a major difference in people’s lives,” Eliza said.
She urges students to step outside the “Marist bubble” and interact with the “creative, happy, beautiful people” of Poughkeepsie. A small dose of support from a peer could mean the world to these people.