I’m a co-founder and co-owner of Acacia and wear several hats including Chief Financial Officer, HIPAA Security Officer, contracts and leasing lead, construction management, and therapist. I helped start Acacia in 2014 to address the growing need to help UC Santa Barbara students connect with a qualified, affordable, and accessible therapist to meet their long-term needs for mental health treatment. I love being part of helping more and more students get the support they need and at the same time providing a fun, supportive, and rewarding work environment for our staff. When I’m not working, I enjoy being outdoors--hiking, biking, climbing, riding my motorcycle, or just hanging out at a local coffee shop.
What is your favorite children's story?
I actually have 2 books that I remember well from my early childhood--Curious George and The Little Engine that Could. I really connected with George’s curious mind and penchant for new adventures. As for the Little Engine, well I think I felt inspired by the courage and determination of this little character with such a giant heart.
What, in your opinion, is the most amazing animal?
The dog. We have so much to learn from their simplicity, ability to forgive, loyalty, and unconditional love.
dr. brett donnelly he/him/his | #PSY26685/#LP6331
co-founder & chief visionary officer (cvo)
I'm originally from a small town in Wisconsin called Lake Geneva. Growing up, my family struggled with addiction and other mental health issues. We also were low-income and, as a first generation college student, I had a hard time finding the appropriate therapy services while I was in school. Services were either unaffordable or inaccessible, or both! I will never forget when I finally found a therapist who helped me work through a trauma I experienced while in college. It was life altering! It was through this personal therapeutic journey that I became passionate about college student mental health. It's what gives me the passion to work with young adults everyday and help them through their journey. I feel so excited every day that I continue to work at Acacia. I feel inspired by the students we serve and continue to feel motivated to remove mental health barriers for college students. Currently, I feel thrilled about our work in the telehealth arena as we can reach even more students than ever before!
If you had one extra hour of free time a day how would you use it?
I would definitely spend it outside! Although this might be challenging in the winter as I live in Minneapolis. During my free hour I would walk through the park to Lake Nokomis with my wife, Stefanie, and our dog Coda. We would all go paddle boarding with a cooler and music on us at all times! Coda loves the water and enjoys pulling us on the board (or tipping us over when he tries to get up on the board). After our time on the lake, time to head straight to Sandcastle for some food in the sun. That sounds like a perfect way to spend my extra hour - or more likely 90 minutes.
What’s your favorite car that you’ve owned?
Just last year I purchased a Tesla Model 3. I have to say that it is not only my favorite car, but the best purchase I have ever made (other than my house I suppose). Keep in mind, I LOVE to go on long road trips. There is nothing better than going out with my brothers, friends, or family and touring the country. I have already had the chance to take the Tesla, or "Elle" as we affectionately refer to her as, to the East Coast and the West Coast. My brother and I went on a college football road trip (I am a lifelong Wisconsin Badgers fan) last November and ended up going to Penn State, Gettysburg, Fredrick, Anapolis, Baltimore, DC, Roanoke, and finally West Lafayette. Then, Stefanie, Coda and I took a road trip to our favorite place last winter...California! It was so nice to put the car on auto pilot and cruise. Not paying for gas in an additional bonus! We have already made so many memories in Elle and can't wait for so many more!
Dr. Robbyn Jackson she/her/hers | #PSY21576
Chief operating officer (COO)
I am a Clinical Psychologist of over 20 years, and the Lead Director for Acacia Counseling & Wellness. I oversee all of the Acacia offices by working closely with the directors to provide excellent mental health services to university and college communities. I play a significant role in the development of new locations and I strive to ensure that each office is filled with passionate, competent and diverse therapists. My favorite thing about working at Acacia is the people! We create teams of therapists and staff who enjoy coming to work each day, not only because they are eager to work with students, but also because they are part of a committed team that values mental health, as well as fun and laughter.
Prior to being the Lead, I was the Director of the original Acacia in Isla Vista, California which serves the UC Santa Barbara community. As an alumnus of UCSB, this was a special honor! I am also very proud to be the first therapist chosen by the owners to work for Acacia in 2015. I love spending time with my partner and sons, Max and Chase, as well as my family-of-friends, who bring me joy and realness.
where are you from and how did you get to acacia?
I am originally from a small town in Texas called Aransas Pass. My journey to Acacia started as a trainee at Northwestern University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and then took me to DePaul University where I did my post-doc and became a senior staff psychologist. I later realized how these experiences shaped my career and passion to work with emerging adults.
What is something interesting about you?
Some interesting (or not so interesting) things about me are that I figured out the hard way that axe throwing is not as easy as it looks! In Texas, we grew up with archery and target-shooting, so I naturally assumed that I would impress my colleagues when we signed up to go axe throwing...Not so much! Another little-known fact about me is that I surf, and while I do not shred...I do LOVE to surf! I wish all of my dreams could be of me catching waves.
I am honored to be a part of the Acacia Counseling & Wellness team and to work with the Santa Barbara community. I am a licensed psychologist and obtained my doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from UC Santa Barbara in 2017. I completed a pre-doctoral internship at UNC Chapel Hill and post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University. I am happy to return to Santa Barbara and get to work with the diverse and wonderful population in this area.
It is important to me to foster a strong and collaborative relationship in therapy. You will find a real person in me, genuine in our interactions, caring, nonjudgmental, and encouraging. It is my goal that you feel comfortable and supported to open up, grow, and work on areas that are challenging for you. Whether it be worrying, feeling down, difficulties in relationships, self-esteem, stress, feeling lost, academic challenges, or low motivation, it is my hope that we can explore and work together to help you accomplish your goals.
I have received specialized training in treating individuals with anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, and Autism/Aspergers. I also work with students on relationship concerns, stress management, self-esteem, family difficulties, identity and diversity issues, life transitions, academic concerns, and learning disabilities. I will individualize therapy to fit your symptoms, needs, and treatment goals. I generally approach therapy from an integration of person-centered, behavioral, and cognitive behavioral (CBT) strategies, and I incorporate evidence-based strategies for your unique concerns. It would be my pleasure to get to know you and work alongside as you navigate college and adulthood.
Outside of work, I enjoy watching sports, hiking, spending time with friends and family, games, and exercising.
"Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in" -Leonard Cohen
I am so grateful to be a part of the Acacia Counseling and Wellness Team! I am a licensed
clinical social worker (LCSW) in the state of California with experience working in diverse
settings including university campuses, non-profit agencies, intensive outpatient and partial
hospitalization programs. I am authentic and relational in the work that I do, focusing on
forging strong connections and creating a safe environment for individuals to process and
explore their thoughts, feelings and experiences. I take a non-judgmental stance with a focus
on reducing shame, aligning with values and increasing self-worth and self-esteem. I work to
ensure that individuals feel supported and empowered while holding safe space for self-
reflection, self-awareness, validation, and self-determination.
In conjunction with my work as a clinician, I am intent on providing compassionate, value
driven and strengths based leadership. My leadership style and goals involve creating a safe,
supportive and collaborative environment where personal and professional growth, self-
reflection, self-awareness, fun, connection, and consultation are prioritized in the name of
providing comprehensive clinical services to clients. I aim to integrate my values of
authenticity, curiosity, transparency, accountability, and collaboration with the work I do.
As a clinician and a director I collaborate with the individuals and groups I work with in the
hopes of creating partnerships that will lead to lasting change. I also enjoy being in nature,
hiking, practicing yoga, eating tacos, traveling, playing with my dog, camping, and taking
adventures with my family and friends!
My experience as a therapist has taught me that sometimes it can be beneficial for clients for us to get to know how we relate to each other together in therapy. I am an open book so always feel free to ask, but for now, my philosophy on therapeutic change:
Although therapy should be tailored for each person seeking it, some things are consistent in all of the work I do with clients: together, we focus on the past and the present to see how we can make space for the kind of future you deserve to have. Our past experiences inevitably shape the way we live today. Our childhood, environment and important relationships help to create a filter for how we learn to interact and see our world. Gaining a better understanding of how our experiences influence the way we feel, think, and act helps us to make the best decisions to achieve our goals. Sometimes it can even be helpful in figuring out what our goals are! But most importantly, it empowers us to take control over the way we want to respond to whatever life throws our way.
Oftentimes, people come to therapy because of what is happening in the present. They want advice, support, challenging, or a new perspective to see how they can overcome whatever difficulty they are facing at the time. A major theme of my work as a psychologist is to empower people to create their own change, and oftentimes that means finding new ways to perceive, respond, or behave that can be difficult at first. Most people know that anything worth having is worth fighting for, and this is absolutely true when it comes to happiness.
I believe that human beings are inherently relational. To me, this essentially means that we are born to thrive from connection to others and wouldn’t be who we are if not for the people that have come in and sometimes out of our lives. Examining these relationships can be a huge part of therapy, whether it’s with our parents, our partners, or with ourselves. Therapy is a place to heal from the past, strengthen the present, and be our true selves in our relationships. It’s a place to learn to love ourselves through getting to know them better. I would be honored to be a person who makes life’s journey a little bit better.
COLE | #LMFT110563
AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Trauma, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Anxiety, Depression, Relationship Issues, Couples Therapy, International Students, Cultural Issues, Identity Issues, Life Transitions, Stress Management, Spirituality, Additional Language: Frech
Hello! I am thrilled to be a part of the Acacia Westwood team! I grew up in the LA area, but after completing my graduate studies in Psychology I moved abroad to France, where I lived for nearly 9 years. I spent my time in France working with international college students dealing with issues around identity, relationships, culture, and spirituality. I returned to my native Los Angeles in order to complete my Masters and enter into the therapy field, because I believe deeply in the power of therapy to help us find wholeness, healing, and freedom in our lives. Also, I really missed tacos.
As a marriage and family therapist, it is a privilege and honor for me to hear your story and actively partner with you in your process toward positive change in your life. I believe in creating a safe, accepting, genuine space in the therapy room where you are free to bring all of yourself, discover your truth, and know that you will be heard. In this space, we will work together to discover new insights into your story, remove obstacles in your path, and take practical steps towards growth and healing. I look forward to walking alongside you in this journey!
KHAMISA THEY/THEM/THEIRS | #LCSW81951
AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Gender Non-conforming, Culture of Origin & Identity Concerns, Multiculturalism, Life Transitions, Self-Esteem, Foster Care, Relationship Concerns, Anxiety, Depression
Welcome to Acacia Counseling & Wellness, La Jolla! I am honored to be your Director and feel incredibly privileged to serve the communities of La Jolla and San Diego. After spending almost four years helping students achieve their personal and educational goals at the University of California, San Diego, I am grateful to continue working with students in this capacity. My work at UCSD has attuned me to the needs of our students, and I look forward to bringing my knowledge and passion to this role. College represents an exciting and challenging time for many, and students often benefit from support along the way. It is my hope that Acacia will be viewed as a space of support, warmth, openness, and safety to those of you seeking mental health services.
I have spent the past several years working in diverse settings, including non-profit agencies, medical centers, and university campuses. I have worked with clients experiencing anxiety, mood disorders, medical issues (e.g., HIV+ young adults), life transitions, and relationship struggles. My work with persons at various life stages has deeply informed my therapeutic approach, which is direct, authentic, and empowering. At core, I aim to help those I work with identify strengths and learn how to use them. I also recognize the importance of providing culturally sensitive support, and strongly believe in the importance of viewing mental health in a holistic manner to address all areas of wellness. Additionally, I have a special interest in working with members of our LGBQIA+, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming communities, specifically those who may have other racial, cultural, and religious identities. My personal and professional understanding of the struggles that accompany intersecting identities motivates me to become increasingly involved in being both a support to and an advocate for members of this community.
Regardless of where you are in your journey, whether you are merely trying to get through the day or working on being your best self, I hope to have the opportunity to meet you and I look forward to embarking on this journey together!
PORTIALYN BUZZANGA #LCSW95795
AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Greetings and welcome to Acacia Counseling and Wellness—Irvine! I am thrilled to be a part of the Acacia family and to serve the students of UCI and the surrounding community.
Transitioning to university life, whether it be undergrad or graduate school, can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience but it can also come with many challenges and obstacles that may be difficult to face in this new space. My goal is to create an environment where students can present “where they are”, develop, embrace, and understand their identities, establish security in themselves, and develop the skills to successfully navigate and enjoy their time as they pursue their academic and social goals.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with individuals from all walks of life and in a myriad of settings. I have built my career in a variety of roles within the mental health realm, mostly in leadership, operations, community work, and direct practice. I started as a community social worker/therapist providing crisis stabilization services before working my way into the acute care world as an inpatient mental health social worker. I then developed an interest in leadership and have managed teams in both acute care and freestanding hospitals working with individuals across the lifespan, opportunities that allowed me to oftentimes work with college students experiencing difficulties transitioning into adulthood, adjusting to the demands of rigorous academic programs, and feeling overwhelmed with reframed definitions of success. I believe my journey thus far has led me to Acacia and I am honored and happy to be here.
I am dedicated to cultivating a supportive, stimulating, and inclusive environment that will allow students and the Acacia Irvine team to reach their full potential and be the best they can be. I look forward to getting to know all of you and working collaboratively to help the students served be well, do well, live well.
When I am not busy trying to be a blend of Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, and Olivia Pope from Scandal, I am otherwise busy chasing my two toddlers and supporting my husband’s desire to be cast as Batman (he’ll take Wolverine as well). I am fairly new to SoCal so I enjoy exploring the region, attempting to craft, uninterrupted naps, college basketball, and traveling although I do not recommend international travel (or even cross-country flights) with toddlers…just don’t do it (totally kidding…kind of☺).
WOODFIN Director of Psychiatry | #20A9002
AREAS OF EXPERTISE
Mood & anxiety disorders, eating disorders, late adolescense & early adult-specific care
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy
I’m excited to work with you at Acacia! I utilize a specialized combination of traditional western medicine and complementary care modalities in order to provide patients with holistic, individualized treatment regimens. After obtaining my Bachelor of Arts degree in English with Honors from the University of Michigan, I attended Western University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in Pomona, California, and graduated with my Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine. I went on to work as an Intern and Resident at UCLA/Harbor Medical Center in Torrance, California and served as Chief Resident during my final year of residency. During residency, I had specialty training in treating mood and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, late adolescence and early adult-specific care, Psychodynamic therapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy. I also became certified to provide Medical Acupuncture through the Stanford University/HMI program.
I am board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and have been in practice since 2007 providing psychotherapy, medication management, medical acupuncture and consultation on nutrition, exercise and other complementary modalities. I prefer to work with patients as a team to strive for optimal health by creating an individualized treatment plan for every patient. I am humbled to be a part of your journey and look forward to working with you.
Andrea Deuring | she/her/hers
minneapolis Therapist & Director of Acacia ROOTS
I began working at Acacia in September 2018. I spend part of my time as a therapist, providing direct services to students, and the remaining time to strategize and fundraise for the Acacia ROOTS Fund. Acacia ROOTS Fund provides need based grants to students who have difficulty affording therapy, as well as educational and development opportunities that benefit students. Before becoming a therapist, I worked in fundraising for seven years. I’m grateful that I’m able to combine my on-the-job and academic training to benefit students.
My road to Acacia had lots of twists and turns. I have two degrees in Russian and tried to make a career in international development. That didn’t work out, and I ended up working in fundraising. Eventually, I went back to school to get a master’s degree in Counseling and Psychology. I knew had made the right choice because I got energy from my evening psychology classes, even after working an eight hour day.
The thing that most excites me about coming in to work is the exploration I get to do everyday. I love sitting with people as they question ideas, make connections, and form identities. I love strategizing for the Acacia ROOTS Fund, and watching well laid plans come to fruition. It’s hard work, and it’s a lot of fun!
Outside of Acacia I typically recharge my batteries by cooking with my husband, going for walks or bike rides, playing with my nieces, or getting together with friends.
What is the first thing you think of when you wake in the morning?
“Why did I adopt this wretched cat who starts meowing at 4:00 am?” Then she curls up in my arms and starts purring and I think, “Oh yeah. That’s why.”
What is the most amazing fact you know?
The Russian word for bear is medved. Med is the Russian root for “honey” and ved is the root for “to know.” So in Russian, the word bear literally means the one who knows where the honey is.
KorbyQuan Reed | He/him/his
Howdy! I am KorbyQuan (Korby) Reed and I’m the Creative Director. I do a host of things: establish our marketing, develop our website and materials, design our office spaces, and lead our outreach coordinator teams.
During a quarter-life crisis while attending graduate school for Counseling & Student Personnel at the University of Minnesota, I discovered Acacia’s new position of marketing lead and decided it would be a good way to blend my counseling work with more creative and versatile projects. I met Dr. Brett Donnelly, Co-Owner, for one of the best interviews I’ve ever had, in the Minneapolis office that featured a couch, a water cooler, and two chairs. I was then hired to be the marketing lead and eventually took over as Office Manager, where I finally got the opportunity to expand my work and expand the furniture situation in that office! In 2018, I moved to California to open our Westwood and La Jolla offices as Site Development Manager and will be opening many more!
I love working for Acacia for many reasons, some of them being that there is so much room to voice your opinions, offer perspective, and make change that is meaningful to you and your teams. Our company is growing fast and it’s important for everyone to maintain our community and to expand it in a way that feels right and feels growth-centered.
In my free time I enjoy staring at my cute pup and cat Bishop & Nile, crafting new play ideas, and exploring new places to go. I want to push myself to keep discovering and to keep finding new ways to enjoy life.
What book had the most significant impact on you?
When I was a wee little one, I read a book that I feel was impactful for a few reasons, which was The Westing Game. I loved that it was essentially a murder mystery for kids. The characters we easy to follow but it has twists and social interactions that skew more adult but gave us kids the opportunity to think outside the box and problem solve. Now, I thank books like The Westing Game for feeding my inner puzzle solver which now translates to my pull towards true crime and escape rooms.
Would you ever try space tourism, if you had the money for it?
I have a total fascination for space! Something about the vastness, the mystery, and the possibility of what’s out there is utterly awesome but it is also utterly terrifying. I would definitely try space tourism but with some limits, perhaps only a moon or two to start.
Claudia Maldonado | she/her/hers
Human resources generalist
Hello! I am Claudia Maldonado, the Human Resource Generalist for Acacia. I am responsible for the day-to-day management of HR operations, which means I manage the organization’s policies, procedures, and programs.
Since graduating college, I have primarily worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities. In 2015, I decided to switch gears from 1:1 services to a more administrative role.
I always knew a career in Human Resources would allow me to help others in an alternative capacity. I pursued my masters degree in human resources management and have been working in the field ever since.
I stumbled upon Acacia unexpectedly, but once I did, I knew I needed to be part of this organization. Acacia's mission and values closely align to mine, making it a perfect fit. My goal as Acacia's Human Resource Generalist is to provide excellent support to all employees so they can better serve their clients.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
There is so much beauty in the world, take the risk and explore it.
You were handed four puppies. What are their names?
Pickles, Winston, Doc & Arlo
Jonathan Truong | He/him/his
Human Resources Recruiter
Hello! I am Jonathan Truong, the Human Resources Recruiter for Acacia Counseling and Wellness. In my role, I screen and assist in the hiring of prospective therapists for the different locations we have throughout California and our location inMinneapolis.
Before coming into the HR role, I started off at Acacia Counseling and Wellness as an administrative assistant in January 2017 while I was en route to finish my Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development at UC Davis. Upon graduating in June 2017, I obtained the role of Office Manager for our Davis location. As the office manager, I quickly learned how to maintain day to day functions unique to our Davis location.
The therapists and staff are definitely one of my favorite parts about working at Acacia because we all support each other while supporting our clients. My other favorite part of working here is witnessing the results that our support nurtures. When I am not at work, you can count on me watching the latest on Netflix or enjoying the sun and the sound of waves at the beach.
What kind of art do you appreciate the most?
I am not sure if this counts as an answer but I really appreciate tattoos. I am not sure if the same stigma applies to tattoos nowadays but the fact that someone would want something (a thought, idea, image) to stay with them forever assures me that there are people who care more about life than just their day to day interactions. Also, every tattoo is so unique and is a reminder that everyone has their own story. Rather than judge someone for having a tattoo, ask them about it.
If someone came up to you and said “Hey, do that thing you do!”, what thing would pop into your head first?
Honestly? I instantly think: Hugs. Everyone compliments me on my hugs. I don’t know why! I wish I could give me a hug to understand what everyone raves about.
jalyn bowdan | she/her/hers
human resources administrative assistant
Hello! My name is Jalyn and I am the Human Resources Administrative Assistant here at Acacia. Originally from sunny San Diego, I joined the CBO team immediately following graduation from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I studied and assisted with research in the field of Communication.
While my work focus involves meeting Acacia's intra-organizational needs, my leap into the mental health industry has been fueled by a personal passion for holistic well-being. I love being able to partner with the heart and values of Acacia to help individuals pursue their mental health goals to the fullest.
In my free time, I enjoy frequenting cozy coffee shops with a pair of headphones and a classic book. When not surrounded by local coffee shop aesthetics, I can also be found browsing Pinterest, watching HGTV, or spending quality time with friends and family.
What are your favorite childhood tv shows?
My favorite childhood tv show would have to be a close tie between Lizzie McGuire and Kim Possible.
What makes you feel old when you think about it?
Fun Fact: I have always loved a good 'ol fashioned letter! Sending handwritten notes is my absolute favorite, but it does make me feel a bit "old" and out of touch with the digital age since most of my loved ones would definitely prefer a quick text.
STORM HUGHES | HE/HIM/HIS
MARKETING + CONTENT CREATOR
Hello! I am Storm Hughes and I work at Acacia providing marketing support and content creation. I am excited to be working here because it gives me the opportunity to pair my experience in social media marketing with my background as a behavioral technician. Mental health care is incredibly important to me and I am thankful for the opportunity to help provide access to a service that has been so beneficial to my own life.
I grew up in San Luis Obispo County and have lived all over California. After a couple years in community college I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Communication Studies in 2018. After that I worked in San Francisco providing behavioral therapy services to children with autism. I eventually found my way down to Santa Barbara where I worked as a social media manager and video editor before finding my way to Acacia.
Outside of work, I love to cook new recipes, watch movies, and relax on the beach.
ARE THERE ANY CELEBRITIES YOU WOULD LOVE TO MEET?
I am a big movie buff, and I would love to meet the director Martin Scorsese. He has had such a long career in Hollywood, it would be amazing to talk to him about how the film industry has changed over the last 60 years and maybe get some recommendations to watch.
DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL HOME.
Minimalist but still warm and inviting. With lots of plants, a well-equipped kitchen and space to host outdoor dinner parties. Possibly a home theater if we really want to dream big.
brayan barron | he/him/his
Credentialing Manager & Billing Supervisor
Hi there! My name is Brayan and I am Acacia's Credentialing Manager and Billing Supervisor. In my current position, I am responsible for making sure Acacia's clinicians are added to our insurance panels while also overseeing most aspects of Acacia's billing department. I grew into my current position after having learned a lot about the inner-workings of insurance billing in my previous position as a billing specialist. I was lucky enough to start working with Acacia as an administrative assistant in 2016 during my third year at UCSB, where I majored in Cell & Developmental Biology and minored in Applied Psychology.
I look forward to work every day because I get to work with a group of people who are also motivated and passionate to be a part of the driving force behind Acacia's growth and our mission of putting our clients first. It also helps that these co-workers are more like friends and contribute to an enjoyable environment.
What was the last thing you were really excited about?
I was really excited to take my 5 year old brother on his very first DisneyLand trip. We had a blast and it was so special to experience all the Disney magic with him.
What food do you love that a lot of people might find a little odd?
I'm a big fan of bagels and all the unique variety of toppings/flavors but my favorite on-the-go breakfast version is a cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese and peanut butter. I swear it tastes good but I get a strange reaction from people every time I bring this up. Don't knock it till you try it.
Ashley Kauk | she/her/hers
I'm originally from Northern California, but my family moved a lot when I was little. Before I was 8 years old, I lived in California, Pennsylvania, Maine, Minnesota, and Arizona. Arizona is where I spent most of my childhood until moving to Santa Barbara, California to go to school at Westmont College. I studied Kinesiology at Westmont and became very aware of how inaccessible health care could be. Mental health particularly was nearly impossible as every provider in Santa Barbara had a wait list that was several months long. Even if they were available, it was extremely expensive. I was intrigued by Acacia because of their mission to make behavioral health an option for college students, who really need it, but can't usually afford it. I work in the billing office and help make sure insurance companies are paying what they're supposed to so that patients only have to worry about their visits with their provider. I love coming into work because I know everything I'm doing is helping accomplish that goal.
What do you buy way more of than most people?
I spend way too much money on concert and theater tickets and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. I like to go to at least one per month, but more is definitely better. I'm a big believer in spending money on experiences instead of things and I've never regretted a concert or theater experience. I highly recommend buying season tickets to your local theater and if there's an artist you really want to see, just go for it!
What is the best gift anyone's ever given to you? And why?
My roommate gave me a vinyl album of X&Y by Coldplay for my 21st birthday. It's my favorite album from my favorite band and it showed me how well she knew me, especially because I had never specifically asked for it.
luis hernandez | he/him/his
I'm originally from Los Angeles, but came to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB in 2011. After graduating in 2015 and working various jobs in the city, I ended up finding my way to Acacia towards the end of January 2019 in the role of an Administrative Assistant.
Since then, I've truly enjoyed being a part of this organization, and find myself constantly inspired to offer my contributions in upholding our mission and values. It helps that Acacia genuinely embraces a fun, diverse & supportive work environment--all the therapy dogs help too!
What do you do to unwind after a hard day?
After a long day at work, I enjoy getting home and either going to the beach to unwind, or spend a couple hours practicing the piano.
Would you rather watch a movie at home or on the big screen in the theater, why?
Depends on the movie--but I definitely enjoy seeing movies in large, modern theaters that you find in bigger cities. I love the spectacle of watching a movie on a large screen with loud audio and comfy seats to help really pull you into the film! But some movies are better suited for just seeing in the comfort of your own home--and you get to have whatever snacks you want!
LaFlora Pierre | she/her/hers
I was born and raised in Pasadena, CA and after turning 18 I moved back and fourth from LA, Arizona, and northern California. I officially moved to Santa Barbara in 2017 after my spouse received a job opportunity. Around that time I was struggling with my own mental and medical conditions, but I was determined to not allow these issues to take over and get back to work. I didn't know what to expect when I first walked into Acacia, but I was blown away by incredible atmosphere and energy of the employees. I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed from the day I interviewed. Once I learned the mission of Acacia I knew this was the place I wanted to work! The mission at Acacia is genuine and all colleagues share the same value when it comes to the importance of taking care of your mental health. It feels incredible to know that I am working for a company that doesn't feel like a "job" but rather a mission. A mission to let students know they are not alone and they are valued no matter what. Because of this I am extremely thankful to come into work everyday and happy leaving everyday knowing I am making a difference.
What household chore do you enjoy doing that most people don't?
Now this may should strange, but I absolutely love doing the dishes. Yes, I said dishes. It gives me time to myself and peace of mind knowing that I making something dirty, clean again. I truly love the feeling I get after I'm done.
What period would be the best to be born in?
If I had the opportunity to pick a time period to live in I would have absolutely loved to have lived in the 70's! From the music, fights for equality, and all things love and peace. I sad I missed out, but happy that there's still so much to fight for that the vibe of the 70's still lives on.
TOM CALLOW | he/him/his
Greetings! I’m Tom, and I’m a Billing Specialist at Acacia’s Central Business Office. As a relatively recent east coast transplant, I have spent the last two years here in Santa Barbara searching for a career opportunity that aligned with my personal values; So when I saw a position open at Acacia I was intrigued. The more I read about the mission, the more excited I became. I am absolutely thrilled to be part of a passionate organization that is moving the conversation about mental health into a brighter space where it can be normalized and positively discussed by all of us, as a society.
Outside of Acacia, I enjoy spending time exploring Santa Barbara with my fiancée DarrylLee. We are both still new to California, so being able to lounge at the beach or go on a hike in the middle of winter is something that has yet to become stale for us. We also have four cats. Yes, four of them. It is just as weird, terrifying, and wonderful as one would expect!
What television show would you recommend to everyone to watch? Why?
Star Trek: The Next Generation. I watched it constantly growing up, and it was extremely influential on how I interpreted the real world around me as a child. Essentially 44 minute morality plays, they are a wonderful way to learn about inclusivity, workers rights, gender roles, the perils of unchecked social systems and so much more. Plus it’s all taking place on a starship, which makes everything cooler. And Patrick Stewart of course. Patrick Stewart forever.
What always makes you have a good hearty laugh?
As stated above, we have four cats. Four cats are endlessly entertaining, and watching them all get the zoomies and knock over anything not bolted down makes me laugh so hard to the point where I don’t even care they most likely broke something in the mayhem.
Gabriela Lopez | she/her/hers
Hello! I am Gabriela (Gabby) Lopez and I'm a Billing Specialist here at Acacia. In my role as Billing Specialist, I assist with verifying Benefits and Eligibility along with following up on any claim issues. I have several years of experience with medical insurances.
In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my husband and family. We often opt for a day at the beach or park.
I strongly believe in Acacia's core values, and I am very excited to be a part of this amazing team.
If you wrote a book, who would you dedicate it to?
I would dedicate the book to my parents. They both have been extremely supportive my entire life, and have done everything possible to see my siblings and I succeed.
You are on a deserted island and can only bring one other person, who is that?
I would bring my husband on the deserted island. It would be nice to have quiet time with him, plus he has amazing survival skills.
priya patel | she/her/hers
Supervisor of Administrative Services
I was born and raised in sunny southern california. Most of my work experience has been managing medical practices leading up to Acacia. What drew me to Acacia was the warmth of the team. I enjoy just being at the office and having such a great team to work with who truly care for their clients.
If you could start a charity, what would it be?
Mental Health Accessibility to Children and Families
What are three things you couldn’t live without?
Beach, Cheese, Chocolate Chip Cookies
delara taie | SHe/her/hers
la jolla office manager & lead office manager, support
Hello there! My name is Delara (Del) Taie and I am the Office Manager at our La Jolla location. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, going back to my birthplace, Tehran, Iran almost every summer since I was three years old. I transferred to University of San Diego in 2016 and there’s no chance of leaving the west coast any time soon. As a recent graduate, I was eager to gain knowledge about the mental health field. With some luck and destined timing, I found Acacia Counseling & Wellness and instantly knew that this is where I was supposed to be. My passion around advocating for mental health and wellness, in addition to my connection with the college population, drives my desire to offer my best in working with the Acacia team and the rest of the community. To know I’m surrounded by individuals both professionally and personally who genuinely care for supporting students through their time of growth is what gets me most excited to come in.
What do you miss most about being a child?
I miss thinking of the possibility that I can one day fly.
Name 3 things on your bucket list
Have my own art show.
Backpack around Europe.
Go bungee jumping off of Verzasca Dam in Switzerland so I can pretend I’m James Bond.
Sam Rust | she/her/hers
Minneapolis office manager & Lead office manager, development
Boozhoo! My name is Sam Rust, and I am from Ramsey, Minnesota. I came to Acacia after a career change from direct care in St. Paul, MN to exploring the administrative side of mental health. I didn't find Acacia, Acacia found me! What excites me the most about coming into Acacia on a daily basis is that I get to make mental health more accessible for a generation who is actively taking care of themselves to make the world better in their own individual way.
what does a typical saturday look like for you?
I spend my typical Saturday afternoon riding my road bike around the lakes in Minneapolis, or traveling to new places that I can ride my road bike.
if mars was now livable, what things would you introduce to the planet?
If I were to take a one way ticket to Mars and it was up to me to introduce something new to the planet, I would make sure that the planet knew about dogs, The Office (U.S. version), and coffee on porches with friends.
Adriane Passani | she/her/hers
Hi! My name is Adriane and I started with Acacia as a bookkeeper in the Central Business Office. Acacia's mission speaks volumes to me on a personal and professional level, and I am thrilled to be a part of the Acacia team! I enjoy coming into the office day after day to all the friendly faces. I was born in Los Angeles, but landed in Santa Barbara at the age of three when my family relocated to the area. After college, I spent some time living in San Francisco and upon returning to Santa Barbara I decided to go back to school to study accounting. For fun, I also became certified by the state as an esthetician.
In my free time you will find me exploring the outdoors, from mountain biking with my two dogs to surfing with friends. I also have a toddler that keeps me on my toes. Watching her grow has been the most rewarding experience of my life.
What word would you wear on a T-Shirt?
I have seen an advertisement for a one word T-Shirt that immediately comes to mind. The word is purposely misspelled and is broken up to signify something so much bigger than the initial definition. The T-shirt reads; BE - YOU - TIFUL, and it represents to me that being YOUrself is so important and BEAUTIFUL no matter who you are. I would wear this T-Shirt to remind those who read it that we are all beautiful inside and out.
What are two of your favorite snacks?
Cottage cheese and spicy Cheetos! I know it sounds horrendous but I suggest you try it - you might just love it too! A number two favorite snack would be anything with chocolate in it.
ANDREW RUIZ | he/him/his
Hello! My name is Andrew Ruiz and I am the Bookkeeping Assistant at Acacia. I am originally from Los Angeles, CA but moved north to attend school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For the past couple of years, I have been diligently working toward a career in accounting and have fortunately been able to intern twice at Warner Bros. Entertainment. However, it was during my time in school, and all the pressure that came with it, that helped me discover Acacia's important mission to offer mental health services and spread awareness.
I am grateful to be able to combine my love for accounting and my passion for mental health into a single job. Plus, everyone here is extremely nice which helps to make my job that much more enjoyable.
What’s something you’re looking forward to?
I am definitely looking forward to the Summer Olympics coming to Los Angeles in 2028. Having grown up watching the Olympics every four years, I've been anxiously waiting for the opportunity to sit down in a crowded home arena and cheer on the best athletes of Team USA with the rest of the city.
What are some of your favorite games to play?
I don't play games that often, but my favorite game definitely has to be Super Smash Brothers. It's the only game that I've played from childhood to now that has never lost its fun value.
Melissa Ray | SHe/Her/hers
Psychiatric Administrative Assistant
My name is Melissa Ray and I’m excited to be joining the incredible Acacia Team. On my job search, I found Acacia and felt an immediate connection. I was looking to work in a healthcare setting since one of my long term goals is to become a Nurse Practitioner. It was clear that Acacia has an incredible insight on what is needed in their industry and they offer the best most modern approach to mental health and wellness. On my spare time, I love venturing out and trying new coffee shops. I hope to continue to learn and grow with my team members and hope to hear from you all soon!
If you had the opportunity to start a business, what would it be?
A coffee shop with dogs who are up for adoption. It would have large outside seating areas where you can sip on some great coffee while playing with dogs. I’d call it “The Dog House."
What smell do you hate that doesn’t seem to bother other people?
Super weird, but the smell of ANY Trident Gum gives me the chills.
BISHOP Companion Animal
Sit, Stay, Puppy Kiss, Rollover, and Dance! Working on not happy jumping as I enjoy giving puppy kisses no matter how far away your face is.
I'm Bishop and my owner is KorbyQuan (Creative Director). As I'm a tad on the younger side being in therapy sessions isn't something I offer just yet but I'm very good at letting you know how excited I am to see you and I love the couch, so I think one day I'll be ready to join friends in session. The German Sheperd in me is also really helpful as I'll make you feel safe! In my spare time I enjoy chasing the ball (you know the one!!!) and following my sister, Nile the Cat, around the house.