ST. PETERSBURG — Many people rely on caffeine as fuel to power them through daily responsibilities. LaVerne Feaster-Johnson, on the other hand, is fueled by a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. She worked as the program manager over Employment Re-entry Services at Department of Veterans Affairs at the C.W. Bill Young Healthcare System.
Being in the first graduating class of the Masters in Social Work from the University of South Florida, social work is in Feaster-Johnson’s blood. Her mother was a Licensed Practical Nurse at the state psychiatric facility in Philadelphia; she worked with individuals who had mental health problems.
“I remember picking my mother up from work one day and a patient tried to follow her home. She coaxed him back into the building by reassuring him that he wasn’t different or dysfunctional, he just functioned differently,” Feaster-Johnson said. Her mother’s kind and accepting attitude is something Feaster-Johnson admired and wanted to pass on to the people whose lives she touched.
Feaster-Johnson moved from Philadelphia to St. Petersburg in 1974 after receiving her undergraduate degree in Social Work. Fresh out of college, her first job was as a paraprofessional for Wildwood Elementary School where she taught remedial reading and math skills to children, kindergarten to third grade. She enjoyed working with children but desired a job in her field.
In 1975, Horizon Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital opened in the St. Petersburg area that later hired Feaster-Johnson as an admission’s clerk/Clinical Social Worker. As the hospital census increased, Feaster-Johnson became the full-time social worker. As part of her responsibilities she recorded patient’s medical and family history, performed psychological assessments and conducted individual and group counseling.
The University of South Florida (USF) launched their master’s degree program for social work in 1981. Feaster-Johnson participated in a task force that conducted a survey in the bay area to see if there were enough people interested in social work to start a master’s program. After participating in the task force, they asked her if she had considered attending graduate school. She was part of the first class to graduate from USF with a master’s degree in social work in 1983.
After graduating from USF, Feaster-Johnson left Horizon Hospital to work for a residential treatment program for emotionally disturbed children. Children with emotional problems, aged 6-17 were housed in the facility. Feaster-Johnson conducted individual, group therapy and family therapy. She enjoyed working with the children and their families to communicate openly and find ways to improve the child’s environment.
“The needs of the children spoke to me. I enjoyed seeing the gratification of the individuals who I served. Especially when they learned that funding and services were available to help improve their quality of living,” Feaster-Johnson said. While she enjoyed working with the children and families, she wanted job security.
She left the residential treatment program she was working for to work for Bay Pines VA hospital. In the 30 years she worked for Bay Pines VA, she built up an impressive resume.
Feaster-Johnson worked as a Medical Social Worker, a Psychiatric Social Worker on the Inpatient Psychiatric unit, a Family Therapist, Clinical Coordinator and Domiciliary Chief of a 120 bed Residential Rehabilitation Program. She retired on January 3, 2014 from her position as the Program Manager over Employment Re-entry Services where she managed five program entities that provided job development and work skills to disabled Veterans.
The veterans were placed into non-sensitive jobs at the VA and were compensated for their work at the federal or state minimum wage whichever was higher. This work placement provided work skills and a positive job history for Veterans who desired to return to competitive employment.
After retirement, she did not hang up her hat for she continues her leadership role as president of the local chapter of Blacks in Government, an organization that advocates for equal opportunity in public sector employment, career development, and education and training.
“Laverne is a very unique leader. She is very committed to the VA first and then to Blacks in Government as president of our chapter. She is very committed, very thorough, very organized and very hard to say no to. Her charm, caring, genuine personality and commitment to her beliefs make her hard to say no to,” Jonathan Wade, Vice President of Blacks in Government said.
Retirement is just the beginning
Since Feaster-Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Certified Diplomate in Social Work, she decided to open a private practice that provides individual, couple and family therapy services.
Individuals with debilitating emotional problems suffer in secret and in silence. Depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, anger, trauma, abuse, and poor self-esteem are just a few of the issues that plague individuals on a daily basis.
Treatment is only a phone call away; yet, many people for a variety of reasons fail to make the call. Most refuse to make the call due to the stigma that surrounds mental healthcare. In the African-American community, mental health care is not viewed from the same perspective as physical conditions. It is seen as a defective component of one’s character or personality.
Emotional instability can be the result of a chemical imbalance, which is treatable with medication. Other emotional conditions may respond to “talk” therapy or a combination of the two. Individual, couple, and family therapy are treatment options, which is available to deal with relationship conflicts.
Naming the office after herself, A. LaVerne Feaster, LCSW, BCD, LLC, is located at 5400 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. For more information or an appointment, please call 727-272-3685.