Alumni Spotlight: Cassandra Edouard C’2011, Therapist, Model, & Businesswoman

CASSANDRA EDOUARD has a passion for helping families, especially young women who struggle with poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression. After Drew she pursued a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and now works as a Family Treatment and Rehabilitation Therapist at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. She also runs her own on-line fashion business called TopNotch{C} where she sells jewelry, clothing, shoes, and hand bags. She believes success comes when you know yourself and that “gifts make room for you”, meaning we all have the ability to manifest great things. Cassandra also loves to dance and model and believes that all these things can be therapeutic.

CASSANDRA AT DREW

Cassandra was born in Brooklyn and raised in Orange, NJ, and came to Drew planning to pursue a degree in biology with hopes of becoming a pediatrician. After taking a course in women’s studies she enjoyed it so much she decided to make women’s studies her major.  It was great being part of the Francis B. Sellers program (formerly EOS) where she had the support of great mentors, like Cordelza Haynes, Twannah Ellington and Jodi Hawkswell, along with her program peers.  Some of her favorite memories of Drew involve her experiences with EOS, with one of the highlights being the “Trust Walk” facilitated by Psychology Professor George-Harold Jennings. This exercise involved students closing their eyes, walking with someone behind them, and then falling back hoping they are caught.  It’s about learning to trust.  The EOS staff and students were like family. “They were there to pick us up and push us to do better.”  Also, they provided a lot of knowledge and resources on how to navigate college, especially as a first-generation college student.  Cassandra loved that Drew was a diverse community and this gave her an opportunity to learn a lot about herself and others. Though she faced some challenges, adjusting to a new environment, and particularly writing on a college level, she improved and developed over her four years at Drew. Cassandra was always interested in modeling, dance, and fashion and participated in fashion shows at Drew and also modeled for photoshoots.  “Modeling was something I always wanted to do.  I always thought I could not be a runway model, because of my height and weight, but I fell in love with photoshoots.”  Cassandra also loves to dance and hopes to develop a workshop that teaches dance as therapy.

CASSANDRA AND MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING

When did you become interested in mental health counseling?

In retrospect, I feel psychology is something I should have pursued when I was at Drew. I took an EOS summer class in psychology, but unfortunately I did not do well in this class, so I decided to major in Women’s studies with minors in French and Dance.  People often came to me for advice. I enjoyed listening and giving them advice, as well as mentoring, encouraging, and guiding them, so I knew this was always something I wanted to do.  I took a year off after graduating Drew, but I talked to the chair of the mental health counseling department, and after discussing my goals, she confirmed that mental health counseling was the right career for me. I then applied to Long Island University in Brooklyn where I pursued a Master’s in Science in the Mental Health Counseling field.

Tell me about your work as a therapist at the Jewish Board of Family and Child Welfare.

I started as a FTR Therapist (Family Treatment and Rehabilitation) for a year, provided case managements and supportive services for families with a caregiver or child with severe substance abuse or mental health issues. The program changed to FFT-CW, in the beginning of July (Family Functional Therapy –Child Welfare) working with high and low risk families. FFT-CW is a family-based program that helps families make positive changes in their homes. A typical treatment process consists of 4 months of weekly at-home sessions.  It is an evidence based model, I work with high risk families. We work for ACS (the Administration of Children’s Services), which is very similar to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFUS.)  My focus and passion is helping the youth and particularly adolescent girls who are dealing with life challenges and assisting them in redefining the stigma of mental health. I believe everything is therapeutic.  I minored in dance and I feel strongly that dancing is also therapy.  I love being able to help those in need, especially those with limited resources.  We have a wide range of client needs.  Those in low income are struggling the most. They need access to resources, healthcare, financial, housing, and government assistance, family counseling, educational assistance, etc.  Middle and upper-class clients have access to resources but they come to us for different reasons, for instance substance abuse, mental health concerns, truancy (child or youth behavior).  Sometimes all they need are recommendations.

What are your future goals?

My goal is to establish my own non-profit with a focus on helping young women.  Women are in need of good role models.  Social media does not present realistic and inspiring examples for the younger generation.  As for me, growing up, I had inspiring influential role models that I looked up too, like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Beyonce, now First Lady Michelle Obama. That were inspiring in becoming a better version of you and wanting more out of life and wanting a career, how to carry yourself as a women, the importance of being a woman of value and class.  I personally feel today’s generation of girls (in my culture) are looking up to singers like Nicki Minaj, City Girls, Cardi-B, etc.  At the end of the day, I feel adolescent girls in our culture have lost their way or focus. One good thing about my current job is that I do have an opportunity to work with young women. I would like to do this full time and help them with their issues of self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and depression, etc.

How do you feel racism and Covid-19 are affecting mental health?

Racism and Covid-19 are affecting mental health because people don’t have access to resources to assist them mentally, financially, emotionally, and physically. People are tired, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated.  I attended a virtual event at my job called 2020 Cross Racial Dialogue, and the guest speaker was Dr. Camara Jones. She defined racism as “a system of power (structuring opportunity and assigning value), unfair advantages and disadvantages of individuals and communities, and a social interpretation on how someone looks (which is what we call “race”).” In my work, I see firsthand many people of color, with limited access to resources, healthcare, a clean environment, healthy foods, housing, financial support, and the list goes on.  In certain areas, the air is clean and not polluted, the buildings are brand new and there’s no lead poisoning, and inspections are up to date.  You can see the difference between that type of area and an area of the city where the buildings are run down, etc.  It’s clear that your environment affects your health.  If your building is not clean, you breathe in bad air.  This is a class problem.  All people need access to health resources, especially pregnant women.  When I had children I had Medicaid but it didn’t cover everything.  A single mother with 2 children, even if you have a partner, will struggle because if you fall under certain guidelines, they will limit your benefits, without taking into account all of your other expenses. That’s stressful, and on top of this, you can’t go out to enjoy your summer because you are trying to practice social distancing and have to stay away from your family due to COVID-19. It is depressing to not be able to live in an area that improves your family’s lives.

What do you feel is the key to your success?

My key is three things my parents taught me – value yourself, value a spiritual relationship to God, and value your career.  When you know yourself and what makes you happy you will be successful.  In the Bible, there’s a saying that says “your gifts will make room for you” and I believe that. It’s sort of the same philosophy of “The Secret”, but a lot of the practices coincide with it.  If you listen to Oprah and other successful people, they understand that idea that “gifts make room for you.” Focus on this idea and it will lead you to where you are supposed to be.  When you manifest it, it will come.  As long as you don’t give up. Plant the seed and give with a big heart, whether it’s religion or non-religion, it works.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a successful person?

Being a good listener.  A lot of us don’t practice that.  I know I don’t but I am trying too. When you listen you learn so much. I learned about different therapies within different cultures and I learned that Native Americans have well developed listening skills. Nipsey Hussle was a positive rapper who did a lot to change the black community and he spoke about being a good listener.  You can learn from someone else and you can tweak what you hear to get to the next level or they can teach you how to get to the next level with one key word.

How has being a First-generation student informed your life and career?

Coming from a Haitian household, being the oldest, and first-generation to graduate college gave me to opportunity to open the door of higher education for my three siblings. The opportunities my parents did not have, they provided that for me by coming to America, to have a career and have a better lifestyle, to be able to create a lifestyle for myself and choose a career that speaks to what I am passionate about and not being limited.

How has being a Haitian-American impacted your life and career?

Being Haitian-American impacted my life and career a lot because coming from a Haitian household, they hold onto their traditions, morals, and values. They expect you to work, live in their homes until you are married and as for Americans, you are considered an adult at 18 years old, learning to be dependent, and having the freedom to live freely per say. At the same time, I am proud of who I am as a person and in a collective sense.  It makes me stand for what is right and helps me not just look at things with tunnel vision but be open to the whole world. It’s also helped me talk more effectively to women. Even though we have different struggles I can help them if they allow me to.  It’s all about what we’ve been through, our journey. I can be a mentor to them and they can mentor me.  Going to Drew I learned how to talk to my peers and not to judge others. This shaped my career. I was able to see something through a different lens and not be one-sided.

ADVICE FOR STUDENTS

What advice would you give first-generation students who are just starting college?

Don’t be hard on yourself and follow your passions, because your gifts will make room for you.  I know we want to do what our parents want us to do but do what makes you happy.  You don’t want to be stuck with something that doesn’t make you happy.  Allow mentors to mentor you.  Don’t be afraid to try.  If the help is there, go for it.  Live life.  Take what you learned from your parents, and put it into your own perspective and move forward.  History comes back in different forms.  What our parents recommend will not necessarily work for us.  Here’s the perfect metaphor – Converse were once used in sports but now people wear them as a part of fashion – make them stylish and get married in them.  This teaches us that things throughout history can be tweaked and changed. Nothing wrong with archiving or deleting it completely. Make your future your own.  Take what your parents taught you and modernize it to what suits you best.

What advice would you give students of colors who are just starting college?

Don’t be afraid and fight for what is right and what you believe in.  Hold on to what you know but don’t be afraid to try new things because they will open you up to new channels.  Step into the unknown and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Expect the unexpected and be ready for change. Change doesn’t always mean good and good doesn’t always mean bad. Follow and chase YOUR DREAMS.

What advice would you give a student who wants to be a model? 

Be confident in who you are is the number one key. Own your walk and your poses, you are a brand, market yourself, have a mini photoshoot at home, look up videos of models (runway or photoshoots) to better your craft. Look at the magazine for poses that fit your personality or style, know what’s trending, be open to new things or know the type of model you are, are you commercial, editorial, street or urban, runway model, fitness model, swimwear or lingerie model, and etc. If you can, have a mentor guide you. Attend workshops, utilize freelance photographers to better your craft (sometimes they provide free sessions and photos as long as you give them credit on social media), Everywhere you go, is your runway. Remember, your personality makes you.

What advice would you give to a student who wants to be a mental health counselor or therapist?

I would like to share a some things that I learned during my journey:

  • Stay true to who you are + KNOW THYSELF.
  • Learn to be culturally competent and sensitive.
  • Do a lot of soul searching + self-care.
  • Always collaborate with other experts in the field.
  • Be aware of how you display your own values, biases, prejudice, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Never stop learning because there’s always new information.
  • Be a part of an organization.
  • Do research, research, research.
  • Not every method, techniques, or theoretical approach best fits a client, every client is different and responds differently, so combining theories is best.
  • Learn your client, become a part of their world, and understand their world-view.
  • Be open to learning new things, expose yourself to things you don’t know.
  • Families are trusting you with their world and some are afraid to share due to other factors, so be sensitive and be willing to advocate, KNOW their story. Not everything written in stone is always true.

FINAL QUESTIONS

What career other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to be in the fashion industry.  The modeling I did always felt right and speaks to my personality. Science, math, and mental health all play a role in the fashion industry.  I believe there’s a connection between all things. Dance was my number one passion and it ties into my current career.  I believe dancing and modeling are both therapeutic.  If a woman is dealing with low self-esteem, dancing and modeling can instill a sense of self-confidence.  I would love to come back to Drew to give a workshop on dance.

Where would you like to travel tomorrow if you could?

I would love to travel to South Africa to find out about my roots and explore where I fit in.  Travel makes you grow as a person and I was so grateful that Drew gave me that experience with my shortTREC to Martinique.  That was the first time I had an opportunity to learn about the French colony as a Haitian American.

Are there any fun facts or hobbies you would like to share?

I have my own business called TopNotch{C} giving women access to the latest fashion accents and the best quality accessories, at reasonable prices. A taste of Fashion Empire, Beauty, and Accessories.

“I want women to express themselves by making a bold statement within their budget, giving women an opportunity to wear the latest-fashionable accessories that they can’t find on anyone else. I want to add a little class, sass, and simplistic taste to their style.” I sell great quality, unique, original women’s accessories, including jewelry, clothing, shoes and hand bags, but it’s mostly jewelry.

Posted by Yasmin Acosta
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