What is Learning Life Skills Together?

Learning Life Skills Together is a rare kind of program to come out of the current crisis in youth mental health. In a crisis, much that is proposed and funded addresses what has happened and is happening in the moment. This is as it should be, and yet, in an ideal situation, there would be more—programs for prevention, to avoid further and newer crises. 

Pennsylvania State Senator Carolyn Comitta and the West Chester University Center for Contemplative Studies have worked together to create and offer, for free, just such a rare prevention program. Learning Life Skills Together (LLST), looks ahead, putting knowledge and action in place in families and in the community to help our children and youth develop the most important skills for resilience as they face the continuous challenges of our times. 
LLST’s prevention focus is just part of its difference, however. While crisis-oriented programs engage and rely on clinical professionals and other experts, LLST instead empowers parents and care-ers to share what they already know with the children they are with. These successful adults have the skills the program is based on, and they just may need some prompts and opportunities to share them. 

Another deep difference is that LLST is an online program that is also alive in the community. While the courses are conveniently delivered online in 5- to 10-minute pieces, the community is invited to come together live, online, each week for a conversation with an expert, and a chance to ask questions and share insights. Further, LLST co-creates events with organizations around the community, bringing parents, care-ers, and children face to face for fun opportunities to share and practice life skills, together.  

Most important, LLST is a dynamic program that is being built as it gets used, so all the experience and insight goes to shape the next part, the next conversation, the next event. We are open to and hoping for connections with individuals and organizations that care for and about our youth. We look forward to growing and changing to best serve what we hope will be a growing community. Please contact us at ccs@wcupa.edu

Our Staff


Donald McCown, PhD, MSS, LSW  
Don is a Professor of Public Health Sciences and the Director of the Center for Contemplative Studies at West Chester University. He is the author or editor of five books on contemplation in education and clinical work, and he presents internationally on those topics. He likes hiking, fishing, cooking, and listening to live music.  
Lorena Baeza-Lara, MA
Lorena is a recent Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health graduate. She has also organized and managed after school and summer programs, taught Spanish GED, and advised high school students and their families on the process to collage acceptance. Lorena brings her passionate, versatile and focused mindset. She hopes to utilize her skills to empower people to become their own advocate and to reach their best self to make a difference in the community.  
Jaquelin Hernandez-Martinez
Jaquelin Hernandez-Martinez serves as a translator and will assist the Latinx community. She is currently a fourth year student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Communications and Spanish, with a concentration in Latin American Studies. She hopes to help make mental health a priority within the Latinx community. In her free time she enjoys hiking, weightlifting, dancing and writing.   
Maddy Heinberg, BA
Maddy is a Graduate Assistant for the Contemplative Studies Department at West Chester University. She is a second year Master of Public Health student, on the community health track. Aside from social science, her passions include animals and art. 
Amber Riley, AS
Amber serves as the Grant Assistant for the Learning Life Skills Together program. She is also a fourth year student at West Chester University majoring in Public Health and minoring in Contemplative Studies. In her free time, she enjoys going on walks with her dog, listening to music, and spending time with friends & family.   

Jeanine Martin
Self-employed Certified Advanced Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness Teacher (on-site and on-line), working with individuals and groups through a culturally aware, trauma sensitive lens. Adjunct Professor at West Chester University teaching Stress Management and Mind, Body and Health. 

Mia Gates
Mia Gates serves as a translator for the Learning Life Skills Together Program. She is currently a senior at the University of Miami studying Psychology with minors in Spanish and Educational & Psychological Studies. She also enjoys doing yoga, running, listening to music, and scuba diving. 

Lindsey Howell, MPH
Lindsey is the Community Program Coordinator for the Learning Life Skills Together program. She has a Master of Public Health from West Chester University. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her dog, dancing, and playing tennis. Lindsey aims to incorporate her hobbies as well as other popular activities into mental health promotion and education within the Chester County community with hopes to make mental health more fun.

Owen Smith, RN, BSN, PhD Candidate 

Owen Smith is a registered nurse and PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. A Pennsylvania native, he has traveled to 15 Latin American countries and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize from 2010-2012 until a violent attack led to multiple surgeries and inspired his nursing career. Owen worked as a nurse with Spanish-speaking immigrants and people with HIV in Baltimore City for 6 years and is now pursuing his doctorate focused on interpersonal trauma among Latino immigrant men living with HIV. He also teaches public health nursing, instructs Mental Health First Aid, and works as a mental health nurse with veterans. Owen's experiences as nurse and living in Latin America fuel his passion for promoting well-being among Spanish-speaking communities. He and his wife, Maritza, are leaders in the Willowdale en Español congregation in Kennett Square and live in Oxford, PA, with their three children.

Clinical Consultants

Christine Moriconi, PsyD, PMHNP-BC   
Chris is a clinical psychologist and psychiatric nurse practitioner with long experience in practice with individuals, families, and groups, and has applied the four life skills in all these situations. She is Co-Director Emerita of the WCU Center for Contemplative Studies.   
Joseph Palmeri, MSN, RN  
Joe is a United States Marine Corps Veteran turned Registered Nurse who earned his Master of Science in Nursing Administration from Pennsylvania State University. His experience encompasses Psychiatric Nursing for adults and adolescents, Primary Care, and Nursing Management. Mr. Palmeri is a VA Coin of Excellence recipient. He is Aggression Replacement Training Certified and has earned certification from Harvard for exercising leadership. He has also completed the Fuld Institute's Immersion of Evidence Based Practice from The Ohio State University. He is the Director of a Community Based Outpatient Center for the Veterans Administration and is President-Elect of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. Mr. Palmeri is currently on a detail as a national workgroup leader for VA ONS in Washington D.C.


Amberlynn Alvord, M.Ed  
Amberlynn is an instructional designer at West Chester University with over a decade of experience in designing and developing learning experiences. In her free time, she enjoys reading, learning new skills, and gardening. 
Jessica Drass  
Jessica holds a Master of Science in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University and works as a Learning Technologist in the Teaching & Learning Center at West Chester University. 
Stephanie Thompson  
Stephanie serves West Chester University as a graphic designer.  Stephanie previously ran her own business and designed with companies in Northern Virginia and New York City.  When not contemplating colors and type, she enjoys running and learning piano. She resides in Chester County with her husband and two daughters.  
David Cullen  
A Grammy Award winning guitarist, David, teaches both Jazz and Classical guitar at West Chester University. He has performed with Will Ackerman, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Philly Pops and The Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra. His recent recording, REVIVAL is featured on many digital streaming services, NPR and XM radio. For more information please go to  www.cullenguitar.com  
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