Tonya Hotchkin Vice President of Clinical Services Tanager Place Tonya Hotchkin says that a part of her believes when a person finds their purpose in life and true calling, that’s something they will naturally do forever. “I would say that from a really, really young age I knew I wanted to work with kids. I […]
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Vice President of Clinical Services
Tonya Hotchkin says that a part of her believes when a person finds their purpose in life and true calling, that’s something they will naturally do forever.
“I would say that from a really, really young age I knew I wanted to work with kids. I started babysitting when I was like 9 years old. Then my first job was at a daycare center at the age of 14 or 15, volunteering and working there,” Ms. Hotchkin said.
Even while earning a social work degree with a minor in family studies at the University of Northern Iowa, Ms. Hotchkin gained experience in her field by working in a residential facility for kids.
She then earned a master’s in marriage and family therapy at Mount Mercy University and joined Tanager Place as a clinical therapist. She quickly moved up as she gained experience and now is vice president of clinical services, overseeing the clinical framework for the entire organization.
“It is not an overstatement to say that she has influenced and left her mark on each and every program at Tanager Place. Her efforts have either directly or indirectly impacted more than 4,000 children in this year alone,” said Okpara Rice, CEO of Tanager Place.
Ms. Hotchkin authored “RISE: Wellness & Resilience Framework,” an original curriculum focused on creating successful relationships in young people and families that lead to positive treatment outcomes. Implemented in 2020, the acronym RISE stands for relationships, indicators of well-being, social and emotional development and enhancements.
“RISE has proven beneficial in providing a framework that has brought uniformity to Tanager’s programming and has been instrumental in helping young professionals understand the impact of trauma, the power of relationships, and the significance of celebrating success,” Mr. Rice said.
Ms. Hotchkin said she eats, breathes and lives RISE in her work life and personal life. It’s the lens through which they do the work “in a way that, hopefully, will have everlasting change in someone’s life.” It’s also part of workplace culture and how to treat staff. “To me it can apply to everything we do within the work,” Ms. Hotchkin said.
From early in her career, she’s been passionate about helping parents and school staff understand how trauma influences a child’s brain and body. As a therapist with Tanager offering therapy at Roosevelt Middle School, she’d spend 45 minutes one day a week with a student, then send them back into the classroom.
Rather than seeing certain behaviors as bad and that kids are naughty, Ms. Hotchkin sees all behavior as communication. She wanted to make a bigger difference to help those within the educational system and families better understand mental illness and trauma.
She’s focused on helping others to discover the second part of the story about trauma: resilience. We don’t often talk about people who have experienced trauma but lead very productive lives, she said. Going on a “three-year bender” of research, she strived to “crack and uncover resilience.” She wanted to learn why were some people able to call on resilience so she could help to cultivate resilience in others.
The school system can make or break a kid, something Ms. Hotchkin says she knows firsthand. Because of “a village of adults” at school, she has the ability to call on her resilience.
Autumn Pino, principal at Roosevelt Middle School, said Ms. Hotchkin’s impact is far-reaching. Through her work with students, staff and families, Ms. Hotchkin demonstrates her transformative belief in the students’ abilities and the power of resiliency. And she hasn’t shied away from challenges.
“I have observed Tonya on numerous occasions engaging and leading such discussions to push what is possible and stretch current practice. She uses a coaching style and questioning approach. When needed, she can be very explicit and clear about expectations,” Ms. Pino said.
Justin Blietz, director of culture and climate transformation for Cedar Rapids Community School District, said Ms. Hotchkin has flipped on its head the traditional reliance on hierarchical power structures.
“Where one person sees a problem employee in need of discipline, Tonya sees a human with unmet needs and provides support. By believing in people, even when they struggle to believe in themselves, she is able to create a culture of greatness. Work becomes less about what I ‘need’ to do and more about what ‘can’ I do to help my team,” Mr. Blietz said.
Also an adjunct professor of play therapy at Mount Mercy University, Ms. Hotchkin said she doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as work-life balance. Instead, she believes we have to be centered on our values.
“So, for me, my core value is children. And that means being a mother first,” Ms. Hotchkin said. “I never want to go to work and live the value of raising healthy, well children in this work without living true to that in my home life. So being a mother is my very first priority.”
That means putting her phone in a drawer when she gets home so she can focus on what’s important as a family with her husband and their three kids: A newborn daughter and two sons, ages 7 and 5.