Mental Health & the Transgender and
Non-binary Community

Released on March 31, 2023

JFS psychotherapist Nancy Lichtenberg in conversation with Aidan Whittel, a former JFS client, who openly shares his experiences as a trans man who transitioned later in life, the toll it took on his mental health, and his journey to be his true authentic self. Aiden’s experience is one of many, and each person’s story is unique.

Aidan Whittel

Aidan Whittel is a 60 year old man of Transgender experience with 2 children and 3 grandsons. Aidan has a Masters in American Studies and a second Master’s in Education. He is a short-term Ability Analyst at The Hartford Insurance Company. He is also a Transgender Awareness Advocate and conducts Gender Awareness and Ally workshops. Aidan is a board member of The Imperial Sovereign Court of Connecticut and a board member of CT Trans Advocacy.

Nancy Lichtenberg, LCSW | JFS Clinician

Nancy Lichtenberg, LCSW, has been in the mental health field for thirty five years, twenty of which have been at Jewish Family Services. As the parent of a young adult who identifies as gender non-binary and pansexual, Nancy has a personal interest and passion for issues impacting the LGBTQ community. From 2016-2018, Nancy held a seat on the Board of Directors of PFLAG, an organization for LGBTQ folks and their family members. In her capacity as a psychotherapist at JFS, Nancy provides counseling for individuals and couples who have come to her for help with a variety of emotional, relationship, and family issues.

Past Community Conversations

Mental Health Conversation Focused on Holocaust Survivors

In person program held on June 21, 2022

Stuart Abrams in conversation with Dr. Lois Berkowitz, Dr. Leon Chameides, Eliane Sandler, and Erica Kapiloff. Opening Remarks by Gayle Temkin. A conversation exploring the mental health challenges of Holocaust survivors and their families. What does it mean to return to life after tragedy? How do we find hope as individuals and as a community and how we can support each other in times of tragedy and beyond?

Stu Abrams

Stu is a teacher of Genocide Studies, Psychology, History, and Human Rights Education at Avon High School. He has served as the advisor to the school’s Amnesty International chapter since 1998. Stu has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including: the Joseph Korzenik Fellowship for excellence in Holocaust Education; the Museum Teacher Fellowship given by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and the Prudence Crandall Memorial Human and Civil Rights award given by the Connecticut Education Association. Stu was also recognized by Voices of Hope as a recipient of the first annual Simon Konover award in Recognition for Excellence in Holocaust Teaching.
Stu served as the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee to help launch a new statewide organization, The Connecticut Human Rights Partnership. The mission of this partnership is to develop, support, and publicize educational and co-curricular opportunities through a network of interested individuals and organizations with expertise, skills and proficiencies in the field of human rights.

Dr. Leon Chameides

Dr. Leon Chameides was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1949. He received his education at Yeshiva University and the Einstein College of Medicine and then trained in Pediatrics and Pediatric Cardiology. He is now the Emeritus Director of pediatric Cardiology at Connecticut Children’s and Clinical Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Eliane Sandler

Eliane Sandler is a retired educator. She was born in Paris in 1947 to a German-born, 19-year-old mother and a Polish-born father, both of whom were their families’ sole survivors. Raised in Israel and arriving in America at the age of 9, Eliane was active in Holocaust commemoration from the 70s and co-founded the commemoration in Greenwich, CT in the 90s. She recently stepped down from the Board of Voices of Hope.

Erica Kapiloff

Erica is the Senior Case Manager for the Holocaust Survivor Program at JFS. Thirty years after graduating from business school, after raising a family, being a foster family, a Fresh Air family, a Guardian Ad Litem and A Better Chance Board member in Simsbury, Erica decided to return to school to pursue her master’s in social work. An internship at JFS led to an offer in the Holocaust Survivor’s Program and 7 years later she is still loving her job and the clients she serves.

Dr. Lois Berkowitz

Dr. Lois Berkowitz is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who works as the Director of Special Projects at the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families. She previously had her own practice primarily working with children and families in Avon, CT as well as part time work with children and adolescents in psychiatric hospitals and day treatment. She is a founding board member of Voices of Hope and she currently serves as President of the Board of the Jewish Children’s Service Organization. She was also the founding member of One by One, a group consisting of children of Holocaust survivors and children of the Third Reich. The mission of that group is to work with groups in conflict and, through dialogue, decrease the risk of conflict going from generation to generation. As part of One by One, Dr. Berkowitz participated in a panel discussion at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about generational transmission of hate and trauma. As a child of a survivor of the Shoah, Dr. Berkowitz devotes her time, both professionally and personally, to addressing all forms of trauma including the abuse and neglect of children as well as the perpetration of any form of genocide upon a group of people. “In order to prevent the past from repeating itself, we must learn from it and act when we see it happening in our world today.”

Social Isolation and People with Disabilities

Originally aired May 17, 2022

Katie Hanley, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services, sits down with Brett Glaser, Special Olympics Connecticut’s athlete, board member, and global messenger, and Caitlin Daikus, MPH, CHES, Director of Health and Wellness at Special Olympics Connecticut about the impact of social isolation on people with disabilities. This includes a check-in conversation, held one year after the original.

Brett Glaser

Brett is from Madison, Connecticut. Some of his friends call him BTM or just Brett. Brett joined the Special Olympics Middletown local program in 2015. He serves on the Special Olympics Connecticut Board of Directors and joined the Board in 2018. He was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, Washington, to play tennis singles and unified doubles.

Brett has worked for the town of Madison, Connecticut as a facility monitor for 14 years. He is obsessed with cars and loves to read DuPont registry magazines and go to car shows. With a lot of practice he was able to get his driver’s license.

Caitlin Daikus, MPH, CHES

Caitlin is the Director of Health and Wellness department at Special Olympics Connecticut overseeing health and fitness programs that focus on increasing access to quality health services and programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Caitlin received her Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health from Western Connecticut State University in 2008 and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from Southern Connecticut State University. Caitlin maintains professional certification as a health education specialist and has experience working in the healthcare field in addition to over nine years in the not-for-profit sector.

Supporting People with Disabilities

Katie Hanley, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services, is joined by Dayna Clark, Adult Special Needs Program Coordinator, Mandell JCC in West Hartford, Elena Fader, Director of Assistive Technology (AT) at New England Assistive Technology (NEAT), an Oak Hill Center, Juliana Fetherman, the founder and CEO of web app Making Authentic Friendships, LLC, and Janice Rothstein, former Director of Clinical Services, Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford.

It’s very important that when having conversations about people with disabilities, we involve them in the conversation. Check out Social Isolation and People with Disabilities – which is focused on the lived experience of people with disabilities.

Dayna Clark is the Adult Special Needs Program Coordinator of the Mandell JCC in West Hartford. Her passion for inclusion and community has stemmed from childhood carrying through to adulthood, shaping her career and day to day life. She strives to practice kindness, spread awareness, and carry high values within her program and beyond.

Elena Fader is the Director of Assistive Technology (AT) at New England Assistive Technology (NEAT), an Oak Hill Center, in Hartford, CT. As a licensed speech-language pathologist with an AT certificate, she is driven by the ways that technology can empower and create opportunities for those with different abilities. Elena leads a prestigious team of AT and AAC Specialists who each contribute unique areas of expertise to local, national, and global communities.

Juliana Fetherman is the founder and CEO of Making Authentic Friendships LLC, an interactive web app that enables children and adults with special needs to make friends based on age, diagnosis, interests and geographic location. Making Authentic Friendships, MAF, are also her brother’s initials. Her brother Michael is 22, has autism and ADHD and inspired this initiative.

Janice Rothstein is the former Director of Clinical Services here at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford. The JFS philosophy of treatment is very comprehensive, family-centered, and specialized for the unique needs of each individual and family. The goal of all JFS behavioral health services is to strengthen and empower people of all ages through counseling and advocacy, enhancing each client’s functioning and quality of life.

Youth Mental Health Survey

Katie Hanley, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services, speaks with 7th grade Sedwick Middle School student, Quinn Brooks, and her mother Leah.

Quinn conducted a survey on the mental health of teens during the pandemic.

Quinn and Leah Brooks

Quinn is a 7th-grade student at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford. She created and implemented a Teen Mental Health Survey for the Quest program.

Leah is a mother of two and lives in West Hartford.

Youth Suicide Prevention

Katie Hanley, chief executive officer for Jewish Family Services, is joined by Marisa Giarnella-Porco, LCSW, co-founder, president, and chief executive officer for the Jordon Porco Foundation, Howard Sovronsky, chief behavioral health officer, at Connecticut Children’s Hospital, and Kim Whittingham, LPC, licensed therapist at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford for a frank and in-depth discussion on youth suicide prevention.

CONTENT WARNING – This conversation includes a discussion on suicide.

Marisa Giarnella-Porco, LCSW Co-Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer

The Jordan Porco Foundation was founded in 2011 after the Co-Founders lost their son, Jordan, to suicide when he was a freshman in college. In their grief, they learned the unacceptable statistics surrounding mental health and suicide in the young adult population, and decided they needed to turn their grief into action, by creating unique programming, so that other families would never have to experience such a profound loss. 

Co-founder and President of the Jordan Porco Foundation (JPF), Marisa is dedicated to preventing suicide in the high school, college, and college entry student population. Through awareness, education, and innovative programming, JPF is challenging stigma around mental health and help-seeking, creating open conversations about the prevalence of suicide and mental health issues, and saving young adult lives.

Marisa has worked in human services since 1985. Her employment experiences range from the CT Department of Children and Families to various positions with local mental health authorities in Eastern Connecticut. Marisa has volunteered for decades in her community and is currently an active member of the CT Suicide Advisory Board. Marisa regularly presents at conferences, workshops, and has participated in several panel discussions, tv, radio and newspaper interviews.

Howard Sovronsky, Chief Behavioral Health Officer, Connecticut Children’s Hospital

For more than 30 years, Howard Sovronsky, a clinical social worker, has been a champion for enhancing access to behavioral health care across portions of the State of New York, serving in a variety of leadership roles. As the Commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, he directed a comprehensive network of hospital and community mental health service for children, families and adults. In addition, he oversaw a comprehensive system of care for individuals with developmental challenges and their families.

After retiring from County Government, Mr. Sovronsky assumed the role of Vice President for Behavioral Health at Nassau Health Care Corporation where he was responsible for all mental health care at a large municipal hospital. In Connecticut, he served as Chief Operating Officer of CHR (formerly Community Health Resources) in Windsor, a large, nonprofit community-based behavioral health services agency.

Prior to joining Connecticut Children’s, Mr. Sovronsky served as President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

As Connecticut Children’s Chief Behavioral Health Officer, his work includes supporting the teams of behavioral health professionals, system development, and as well as providing support and behavioral health content expertise throughout our healthcare system.

Kim Whittingham, LPC, Licensed Therapist at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford

Kim Whittingham, LPC, is a therapist at Jewish Family Services. With over 15 years in practice, she’s been at JFS for 6 years working predominantly with children, adolescents, and families. She is the coordinator for the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team, offering an evidence-based model for children experiencing trauma.

The Impact of the Pandemic on the Mental Health of Children and Youth

Originally aired June 1. 2022

Katie Hanley, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services, is joined in conversation with Dr. Melissa Santos, the Division Chief of Pediatric Psychology and Clinical Director for the Pediatric Obesity Center at Connecticut Children’s, and Kim Whittingham, LPC, Licensed Therapist at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford. This conversation focused on the unique mental health challenges facing children and youth, during the ongoing pandemic and beyond.

Dr. Melissa Santos

Dr. Melissa Santos is the Division Chief of Pediatric Psychology and Clinical Director for the Pediatric Obesity Center at Connecticut Children’s and is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. In her role within obesity, Dr. Santos oversees the treatment of youth and their families in the Center’s nationally accredited bariatric surgery program and its behaviorally based non-surgical weight management programs. In her role as division head of psychology, she leads a team of 15 pediatric psychologists providing outpatient, intensive outpatient and inpatient care to diverse group of youth with comorbid medical and psychological conditions. She is the pillar lead for Connecticut Children’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives focused on patient healthcare inequities and is leading work to care for the mental health of our healthcare workers. Her research is focused on the improvement of treatment outcomes by examining methods to better tailor treatment to presenting comorbidities. She is currently NIH funded to examine a psychological treatment for youth with comorbid obesity and chronic pain. Dr. Santos is President-Elect for the Society of Pediatric Psychology.

Kim Whittingham, LPC

Kim Whittingham, LPC, is a therapist at Jewish Family Services. With over 15 years in practice, she’s been at JFS for 7 years working predominantly with children, adolescents, and families. She is the coordinator for the Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team, offering an evidenced based model for children experiencing trauma.