Marisa Nuñez, Marisa Hair, Long Island City, NY

Valerie Rawls

TeamUP Counseling

Cliffside Park, New Jersey

“I am very grateful for Ascendus because I wouldn’t have gotten this start anywhere else.”

How Valerie Went Above and Beyond Her Dreams


Valerie Rawls wanted to change the social work industry. She was frustrated that there were many patients that needed treatment, but there weren’t many programs available tailored to these patients. She saw firsthand how tailored programs helped patients when she was working in a corrections facility with teenagers. She was brought on specifically to be a leader in creating programs to help these patients with the problems they were facing. This way of treatment worked, and she knew that it would be beneficial in other populations as well. But there was a problem, it was hard to get funding for these programs. As she saw how her work impacted those around her, and she realized that she wanted to create programs of her own in underserved populations where there wasn’t funding available. She had a deep love for social work and knew that she could do more for the communities that needed it the most.  “I wanted to create ways to help everyone – from the child with a disability gets frustrated with not being able to communicate to the kids who want to participate in sports and clubs with their peers but find it hard to function.”

Valerie had worked multiple roles in her field, as a social worker, a lead mental health therapist, and even the director of a therapy agency. She knew that social work was her way of bringing good into the world, but she didn’t want to focus only on one area. She wanted to do it all. She had a vision of taking all the lessons she learned in her multiple roles and creating an environment where patients could best thrive in. She had just given birth to her second child when she decided that she was going to make that vision come to life.


When Valerie first started her counseling center, she was still working a full-time job, had just gone through a divorce, had two young kids, and was low on funds with a low credit score. But she knew that she had to find a way to make her dream work and do more for her community. Her goal was to eventually quit her full-time job and focus solely on her counseling center. She would use her salary from her full-time job to pay the employees at her counseling center, and she would use the money she made from her counseling center to pay her personal bills. “I was exhausted. I needed to find a better way, I needed funding.”

But because of her low credit score, she was rejected from almost every bank. “I remember walking into the bank I had used for years, they knew me, and they still couldn’t give me a loan. I just broke down crying.” Then she found Ascendus through an event, and she was able to receive her first loan of $18,500. She used it to pay her staff and was able to move to part time at her job. Valerie then took out a second loan of $16,000. She was able to use it to invest in more equipment for her patients. Things were starting to look up for Valerie.

Then the pandemic hit. She had to shut down her counseling center, but she still had to pay all the bills and her staff. She also needed to switch to virtual programming, but she didn’t have any of the technology to make it happen. She turned to Ascendus and was able to receive a $22,000 loan with the Grow with Google Fund. “That loan got me through the pandemic.”


Valerie originally envisioned a small private practice, but it grew into a community center that caters to different types of counseling for those with autism, down syndrome, ADHD, and other special needs. It was not part of her original plan at all, but she is very grateful for how it turned out because she has been able to expand the number of people she can help and the number of lives she can save. She started off with just 11 part time workers, and she now has 25 independent contractors, 7 full time employees, 6 peer leaders, 5 graduate interns, and 4 after school programming staff working for her. She has fully transitioned into focusing on her practice full time. “I am very grateful for Ascendus because I wouldn’t have gotten this start anywhere else.”

In the future, Valerie hopes to hire more full-time staff for her current center and expand to other locations. She wants to focus on training members of the community at every level, even from high school. She runs a program that allows high school students to volunteer with children with disabilities, and those hours go on their college applications. “Before, these kids with disabilities would just get ignored. Now after introducing peer leaders, they would sometimes see those kids in the park and ask them to play because they know them now. It changes everything for a kid with a disability.”

Valerie also helps other social workers and therapists create centers like hers through a mentorship program. She hopes to empower all social workers and therapists with the knowledge and ability to do this too. “It makes me really proud to develop and create that desire within people where they can start their own counseling center and make the entire industry more robust.”

To learn more about Valerie Rawls and TeamUp Counseling, visit:

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