St Raphael’s Volunteer Steps in to Help Schools Post Pandemic

Mental health is a hot topic in school systems across the country. To meet students where they’re at, St. Raphael Counseling’s school counseling team has grown, partly in response to the complex social emotional and academics setbacks stemming from the COVID pandemic. This expansion of school counseling throughout the Archdiocese of Denver stretching from Eagle County to the Denver Metro area.

Mary Ann Looby is a dedicated volunteer from Lakewood who spent much of her career helping with diverse mental health concerns of clients in healthcare and higher education. When she graduated with dual master’s degrees in social work and public administration in 1982, Colorado was ranked 48th in the country in mental health resources. With many Denver mental health centers closing their doors, the job market wasn’t looking bright for behavioral health practitioners.

Her early career focused on human resource management and organizational development, but she continued to volunteer in areas of childcare, early childhood education, religious education and with at-risk students within Denver Public Schools. Later, Mary Ann shifted her career to work as a college counselor and then a social worker in healthcare. When she retired, she met with her pries, Fr Ed Buelt, at Notre Dame Catholic Parish in Denver and asked about volunteer opportunities. Divinely inspired, he responded with a desperate plea for more school counselors at the school.

“I retired a year early and wanted to continue working in the behavioral health field, and I was always interested in working with children in schools. I felt this was an opportunity to serve and do something for Jesus,” said Mary Ann.

She answered God’s call and went through the counselor training at St. Raphael’s to begin another phase in her career, volunteering at Notre Dame Catholic School. That’s where she learned about the setbacks that the COVID pandemic presented to students in Denver, nationwide and globally.

“The counseling team has been trained to notice the student behaviors that indicate social, emotional and academic concerns, and assist in helping them get back on track,” said Mary Ann.

One of Mary Ann’s greatest joys has been to witness how the students have positively responded to social emotional learning (SEL). At Notre Dame Parish School, counselors provide classroom lessons, work with smaller groups, and individual counseling. This additional support at school helps children to express their feelings, learn coping and social interaction skills as well as student success tactics. An integral part of school counseling at Notre Dame is to focus on Catholic virtues because they impact student education, friendships and their everyday lives.

For Mary Ann, fostering behavioral health, spiritual growth and student success in our youth is of upmost importance. And she appreciates the opportunity to work as a volunteer within Catholic Charities. “Our society has gone through a lot of changes impacting families and children. We have learned better ways to support children in our rapidly changing society and the increasing life stressors affecting all of us. Our Catholic schools support the social, emotional, and behavioral health for children, and it makes a big difference in student success!”