When licensed counselor Rita Platt, 53, first became a therapist 10 years ago, she aspired to make a difference in the lives of families dealing with issues such as divorce, substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
"It hurt my heart to see all those kids struggling," said Platt, an Indiana native who resides in Odenton.
On March 30, Platt was named executive director of Catonsville nonprofit Lighthouse, a youth and family services center located at 60 Mellor Ave. that was founded in 1971.
Serving the southwest area of Baltimore County, including Arbutus, Catonsville and Lansdowne, the organization provides services such as counseling for families, groups and individuals; community education; neurofeedback; and clinical training for graduate students and professionals who work with children and families.
Those services are provided at a reduced cost as the organization works to provide clients care based upon their income, Platt said.
Although those seeking care are encouraged to call beforehand, a referral from a primary care physician is not required unless requested by an insurance provider, Platt said.
Platt takes over from longtime Executive Director Linda Lombardo, who came to Lighthouse in 1989 as a student intern and retired March 29.
Platt was formerly a delinquency prevention counselor at the organization, serving in that capacity since 2010.
Heading the organization for the past couple months, she's learned that "there are only so many hours in the day," Platt said with a laugh, seated in her office on a sunny Friday morning as a window air conditioning unit hummed in the background.
"Because I've been here, I've seen the way that Lighthouse has served the community and the kids," Platt said.
Platt's co-worker, Susan Fetcho, who has been with the organization for nine years, said, "She's been a staff counselor, so I knew she had excellent counseloring skills, but I hadn't worked with her as an administrator. ... It's been very exciting seeing her grow into that role."
"It's been exciting and energizing, because Rita is very energetic and has new ideas," Fetcho said, standing in an office on the first floor of the cozy pale yellow house on the corner of Mellor and Magruder avenues.
Images of lighthouses on sandy beaches decorate walls throughout the renovated colonial, alluding to the guidance and safety the organization hopes to provide.
Lisa Sansone, a Catonsville lawyer who serves as chairwoman of the nonprofit's board of directors, said the board was impressed by Platt's enthusiasm and ideas for moving the organization forward.
"I've had the opportunity to work with her very closely during the transition," Sansone said. "She's so enthusiastic and energetic.
"She had great ideas for what to do with the organization," she said. "The board was just rolled over with the ideas that she had.
"It's her first job as an executive director, so there has been a learning curve there," said Sansone, a board member for eight years. "There will come a time when we're in the groove, but we're not there yet."
Platt moved to Maryland from Colorado, where she developed an appreciation for the outdoors and met her husband, Thom Platt. They have been married for 26 years and have three sons.
She earned a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Colorado and went on to earn a master's degree in professional counseling from Liberty University in Virginia.
Platt has held various positions, from a public speaker to children's choir director to writer, but all had one common thread — working with children.
"It seemed like they always involved kids," Platt said.
Platt said the nonprofit has received support from the community, and often works with local schools to help offer their support to families. That work recently involved offering an anger management program at nearby Lansdowne Middle, Platt said.
"We work with the guidance counselors and parents who are trying to work with the school," Platt said. "If their child needs more of an individualized plan or there's a meeting, and they need some help with that, to understand what they're being told, we'll go with them to that meeting."
As far as her plans go for the organization, she'd like to expand programs offered, she said.
"We're working to broaden what we do to meet the needs of families and kids in the community," Platt said. "I'm hoping that we can offer more and different kinds of groups."