JSSA’s Annual Mental Health Symposium

Building and Sustaining Connections

Date: Thursday, May 16, 2024

Time: 10:00 am – 4:15 pm

Location: Bender JCC
6125 Montrose Road, Rockville, MD 20852






10:00 – 11:00 am – Keynote – Matthew Biel from Georgetown University –  JCC Auditorium

Title: Compassion, Connection, and Community: What is Working, and What More Can We Do to Alleviate Loneliness and Address the Crisis in Youth Mental Health?

Description:  The talk will describe the ongoing crisis in youth mental health that began in the years prior to the pandemic and continues post-pandemic. The discussion will also explain the phenomena of loneliness and social isolation affecting individuals across the lifespan. Relevant contributing factors will be considered, including digital media, COVID-19, discrimination, and entrenched income inequality. Examples of promising interventions to alleviate the crisis, including clinical strategies in the consultation room as well as systemwide strategies in schools and other institutions, will be presented.

 Learning objectives:

  1. Understand national data that describes a persistent crisis in adolescent and young adult mental health.
  2. Become familiar with important social trends that are correlated with this crisis.
  3. Review three strategies that show promise in addressing key factors impacting mental health and well-being across the lifespan.

 Presenter: Matthew Biel, MD, MSc


Matthew Biel, MD, MSc, holds the Marriott Chair in Child, Adolescent, and Family Mental Health. He is also Professor and Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center/MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. He co-directs the Early Childhood Innovation Network, a citywide effort to improve developmental outcomes for children

and families in Washington, DC. Dr. Biel was selected as an Aspen Ascend Fellow in 2018. His work addresses the impact of adversity and stress on children, adolescents, and families, with research centering on reducing health disparities. Dr. Biel’s projects seek to improve access to mental health care for underserved children, adolescents, young adults, and families through programs based in primary care and school settings and developing clinical interventions focusing on trauma and resilience, anxiety, and autism.   Dr. Biel received his medical degree and a master’s in Community Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He trained in general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine.   


11:15 am – 12:45 pm – Workshops – Pick One

Workshop 1 Title: Building and Sustaining Connections with School-Age Youth


  • Ely Peralta, LMSW, Clinician Mind Craft
  • Carolina Castedo, LCPC, Mental Health Counselor, JSSA NOVA location, Therapist for Healthy Minds Fairfax Program, Care Coordinator for TAY (Transition Age Youth)
  • Journey Edgell, BA, Wraparound Program

Description: This workshop will offer attendees insight into what causes loneliness in youth, how to prevent it, and how to address it. Clinicians and staff across three JSSA programs will share effective interventions through case examples.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Name three risk factors for loneliness in youth.
  2. Describe two effective intervention strategies to use when addressing loneliness in youth.
  3. Name two programs that are available locally to support youth connection.


Workshop 2 Title: Don’t Forget About Me: Strategies and Tools to Assist Isolated Adults and Older Adults in Navigating Connection Within Their Communities and Beyond.


  • Irene Mednick, LCSW-C (Moderator)
  • Koretta Skelton, LCSW-C
  • Karie McMickle, LMSW

Description: This workshop focuses on the daily physical and mental health challenges that individuals living alone face. The presenters will highlight techniques and tools that help connect isolated adults and older adults to their immediate community. Special consideration will be given to resources specific to the Greater Washington area.

Learning Objectives:

  1. To obtain greater knowledge of the challenges that isolated adults and older adults experience in modern-day America.
  2. To gain familiarity with strategies to help isolated adults and older adults connect with their community.
  3. To gain knowledge regarding the wealth of available resources for isolated adults and older adults.


Workshop 3 Title: Online Connections – Navigating the Maze and Its Impact on Children and Families

Presenter: Alex Hammer, LCSW-C

Description: This workshop will explore subcultures of online communities and how therapists can engage with clients who are members of these communities. As socialization among young people continues to become more and more virtual, it is essential that clinicians can identify and understand these communities’ social traditions and norms and how these communities often serve as a larger context for mental health presentations. Topics such as online-only friendships, supportive communities, and unsupportive communities, as well as the impact of this virtual world on the day-to-day functioning of our clients, will be explored. Tools to help parents navigate and determine reasonable expectations will also be discussed.

 Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will gain an understanding of Discord, 4chan, Reddit, and other online communities.
  2. Participants will be able to describe how different online communities participate in social activities, from online games to online social networks.
  3. Participants will be able to identify the dangers of radicalized and insular online communities and warning signs of unhealthy online behaviors.


12:45–1:30 pm – Kosher Lunch – Social Hall

1:45-3:00 pm – Youth (age 14-26) Panel Discussion

In 2023, The United States Surgeon General’s Office published an Advisory on the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. The report states the grave impact of isolation and loneliness on our physical health. However, social disconnection is not experienced equitably across the population. Youth, defined as people aged 1426, are a particularly vulnerable group. A panel of youth will speak on their experiences building their social networks and dealing with their own feelings of loneliness and isolation as they manage a variety of experiences, including individuating from their families and leaving school.


  • Rian Russell, High School Student
  • Madison Stewart Boldin, JSSA, Youth Advisory Council Coordinator
  • Max Beach, High School Student

Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will hear directly from young people about their experiences creating and sustaining social connections and how those in helping and supporting roles and aid in this process.
  2. Participants will learn about transitional-age youth’s unique needs in creating and sustaining relationships.
  3. Participants will be encouraged to consider the impact of identity on access and barriers to building meaningful relationships.


3:15-4:15 pm – End Note – Joseph Wilson, LCSW-C – JCC Auditorium

Title: Cultivating a Culture of Connection

Connections – social, familial, school/professional all have an impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Having heard from a wide range of professionals and young people, the end note will focus on the importance of how all of us in the helping profession/sphere focus on the variety of ways in which we remain engaged and connected. This includes ways in which all of us in our roles can cultivate a sense of belonging and a culture of connection.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand ways in which providers and helpers can remain connected and engaged.
  2. Identify how to cultivate and sustain high-quality engagement.
  3. Determine ways to discontinue practices that lead to disengagement.

Presenter: Joseph Wilson, LCSW-C

Bio: Joseph Wilson is a seasoned leader in social services with a 30-year career spanning the fields of education, healthcare, military services, child welfare, and juvenile justice. As Senior Director of Mental Health Services at the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), he drives system reform and fosters collaborative partnerships to address diverse community needs. With notable roles in Loudoun County Government and Maryland Choices, Joseph’s transformative vision and commitment to patient-centered care have earned him recognition as a tireless advocate of excellence in enhancing individual and community well-being.