Leaders create leaders – Keya Michel reflects on the power of mentorship

(Keya Michel and her mentor Elissa Ramos) 

By Keya Michel, Senior Program Director, Mental Health Services 

When I joined the Case Management program in 2002, Elissa Ramos had already been with University Settlement for a while. Working as case managers at the same level of seniority, as well as officemates, we quickly established a friendly rapport, and soon began partnering to facilitate large group trips and workshops focused on developing our special-needs clients’ socialization skills. Looking back, I can see that our mentorship began quite early, as Elissa welcomed, guided, and supported me when I was brand new.

Elissa went on to obtain her master’s degree at Hunter, and with her encouragement I followed in her footsteps, receiving my master’s in 2007. She also continued to grow in her role at our agency, becoming our Case Management program’s first Assistant Director – carving out a path I would also soon walk, when she was promoted to Director.

We’d been great officemates when we were case managers, and now as program leaders we transitioned into another shared office, where my mentorship progressed steadily – Elissa taught me the ins and outs of management, budgeting, recruiting and retention, how to navigate Department of Health and Office of Mental Health contracts, strategic visioning, and the importance of collaborative partnerships, all of which helped me grow into a stronger leader.

Elissa and I share a ‘roll up your sleeves and get things done’ attitude – which helped deepen our partnership as we helped navigate our programs through certain crises, as well as many successes over the years. Her experience and foresight helped steer me in the right direction, and just knowing that I could count on her guidance was highly motivational and deeply meaningful.

When Elissa left the agency to take on a leadership role at Westhab, overseeing supportive housing programs, it was very bittersweet. I took the lead in planning a huge farewell event for her, which Melissa Aase and our then-CEO Michael Zisser attended. And while I was saddened to see her leave the agency after having such a close mentorship all those years, I was also honored to be promoted to Director in 2014, leading Care Coordination Services and the Home-Based Crisis Intervention program.

I continue to benefit and grow from Elissa’s impactful mentorship – and in turn, it’s important to me to pass along the guidance, support, and lessons she shared with me. I’ve been able to pay it forward by identifying and developing talent on my teams, including both of my Assistant Program Directors, Ronna Williams and Liza Sanchez.

I was promoted to Senior Director in 2019, and I credit Elissa’s support for helping me to reach yet another milestone. I’m grateful to count her as my friend and mentor to this day, and I value everything she’s taught me over the years, including the way she’s always rooted for me to embrace my opportunities.

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