Working in Clark County: Elizabeth Higley, program manager, Great Life Mentoring




At the end of a successful day, Elizabeth Higley can reflect on the many people she has spoken with, emailed, trained or interviewed, and know that all her team’s hard work is serving to facilitate healthy relationships between children in the mental health service system and adult mentors. Higley said studies show that kids who have a relationship with a mentor through her program, Great Life Mentoring, experience more improved mental health outcomes than those who only receive mental health services.

It’s because their needs are met,” Higley said. “They know the mentors are there because they choose to be. They’re not just paid to be there.”

Residence city: Portland

Business name: Columbia River Mental Health Services, Great Life Mentoring program. 6926 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver. 360-993-3184

Age: 50

Educational/professional background: I received my formal education through Portland State University (Bachelor of Science Communications) and the University of Washington (Certificate in Mental Illness and Addiction) but it has been my years of service to the community and personal education that have truly prepared me for the work of developing Great Life Mentoring. I have volunteered steadily for more than 30 years helping women, children and programs develop.

How — and when — you got started in your business: I have been interested in supporting vulnerable children since I was in the fifth grade and learned about abuse and neglect. I was so outraged by the injustice that I pointed my life-steps in ways I could help. In 2000, when the Clark County Department of Community Services and Columbia River Mental Health wanted to provide mentoring services to the young people in our community, I was the fortunate person who got hired to create the program. The program is now a Promising Practice on the Washington State Inventory of Evidence-Based Practices and a model of quality in the field. Great Life Mentoring (formerly called 4Results) enriches the lives of children in the mental healthcare system and consequently, the lives of the mentors as well.

Personal/business philosophy: After meeting the first child enrolled in the mentoring program, I knew I could not give him a mentor that I would not allow my own child to be mentored by. I am driven by deep convictions that every child deserves the very best. I don’t view my work as a job or career but as privilege. It is a labor of love to serve to the world by helping people develop themselves in healthy relationships.

Most rewarding part of job: I want to spend my time on things that matter; and in my work of developing healthy relationships for vulnerable children, there is deep meaning. For sixteen years now, both the mentors and kids have been saying that our program has enriched their lives. We ask mentors to commit for one year, and 98 percent of them follow through (the national average is 45 percent). Beyond that, many want to stay longer; our average match length is four years. It brings me immense satisfaction to know people are so blessed.

Most challenging part of job: The unmet need. Our program serves children receiving publicly funded mental health services through all child-serving agencies in Clark County — that’s a lot of kids who need mentors, and there are just not a lot of people who volunteer.

Something surprising about your work: There is a national interest in the Great Life Mentoring model. Two leading researchers in the field are principal investigators of our research project. With their expertise leading the way, we are working to gather the scientific evidence needed to replicate the program in mental health centers across the country.

Best feature of my Clark County community: Without a doubt, it’s the people. Through my work, I’m shown the heart of this community’s people and those individuals restore my faith in the goodness of humanity.

What would make your community a better place? If the folks who care about kids and are not yet serving would be willing to reach out, we could help them to become successful mentors, and they would become the catalyst to make Clark County a better place today and for generations to come.

What is your favorite travel destination and type: Absolutely anywhere, as long as I’m with my husband! I really don’t care if we are on a ferry in Puget Sound, on a plane to New York City or on a train to Cinque Terra, Italy. We could simply be in our own car going to a farm on the Oregon Coast where we’ve been dozens of times.

Favorite restaurant/pub/coffee shop/store: My favorite Clark County go-to spots are McMenamins on the Columbia for the view, and because I’m a Cosmic Tripster; New Seasons, because I love what they offer to stay healthy; and Starbucks, because they get my coffee right every time and some of their wonderful employees are supporters of Great Life Mentoring.

Hobbies: My favorite pastimes are writing, quality time in long-term relationships, and experiencing nature and traveling with my husband.

Most enjoyable book/play/movie/arts event in past 12 months: Book: “An Altar in the World,” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Movie: “Room.” I was mesmerized by the sweetness of the relationship of mother and child, the courage, the hope, the ability to survive. Arts Event: I’ll be going to the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center for my birthday next month, and it’s already my favorite!

Something you’d like to do this year/within five years: This year I hope to complete another round of edits to improve a book I’ve been writing. In five years, I hope to see completion of the Great Life Mentoring research project, which would mean seeing its model replicated in other areas; bringing the same positive outcomes to kids with mental health needs across the country.

One word to describe yourself: Devoted.

Person you’d most like to meet: Bono Vox, lead singer of the rock band U2.