Jon-Pierre Mitchom: Alumni Success Story
From counseling immigrants to building community programs in his neighborhood–MBU alumnus Jon-Pierre is building a path for those in the margins.
Bridging the Gap
It is the end of the work day, but Jon-Pierre Mitchom (’13) isn’t heading home quite yet. Instead, Mitchom walks into a cheerily bright office to prepare to lead a counseling session at Casa de Salud’s Mental Health Collaborative. On this day, his patient is from Iraq, and Mitchom is helping him heal from the trauma from his homeland and subsequent immigration. At the end of the session he will head home from the clinic. He’s only a few blocks away.
Mitchom first started his career in community health after a career playing semi-professional basketball in Bosnia. His first career after basketball was working as a community support worker for the Amanda Luckett Murphy Hopewell Center, a health center that fights disparities in mental health. His clients were slipping through the social safety net, and Mitchom was desperately working to better their lives. During this time, Mitchom had an overloaded caseload of 22 clients with diagnoses such as chronic bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He would support the patients and help them stick to their treatment plans. The trauma the patients suffered called Mitchom to action.
“I had the chance to see the hard stuff people go through; most people don’t see the trauma,” said Mitchom. “This created a dilemma for me: ‘What can be done?’ I’m on the reactive side of the trauma my patients are experiencing, but how can I be proactive?”
Mitchom then took a role at a small Christian private middle school, where he helped screen kids so they could get help before their problems and illnesses escalated. And shortly after being married, his position was cut due to low enrollment.
At the same time, Rockwood School district was awarded a sizable grant for a mentoring program, and Mitchom was hired as its program facilitator. The position transformed into one of social justice. He worked on issues ranging from diversity and emotional support to cultural awareness sensitivity.
In addition to being the area supervisor for Rockwood’s Department of Educational Equity and Diversity, he became the homeless coordinator for the school district. He served families that were living out of motels. In this case, Mitchom was a primary resource to help the families from further disparities.
“This is a side of education most people don’t see,” said Mitchom. “I wanted to provide a sense of normalcy for the kids who were going through that difficult time. I connected them with resources, made sure transportation was not an issue and such. In the midst of this, I reflected and thought, ‘There is a lack of resources for people who are in desperate need.’”
That is when Mitchom realized that he should follow in a counseling trajectory.
“I feel like I’m called to do this—I have a natural gifting—so why not formalize this?” Mitchom recalls thinking.
His mother was a counselor and is a strong influence in Mitchom’s life, so a graduate degree in counseling seemed a natural step. He pursued MBU’s dual track of school counseling and mental health so he could be a licensed professional counselor and work in schools.
“While I was in my master’s program at MBU, I was affirmed, and it confirmed that I selected the right degree and university,” said Mitchom. “I was able to have case conferences with my supervisor, roll up my sleeves and have a sharper therapeutic experience. When it came to take my licensure exam, I was well prepared.”
Mitchom was then invited to join the Parkway School District as a school counselor for Parkway Southwest Middle School. Mitchom still wanted to practice professional counseling, so he began his own practice, accepting patients after school hours.
This year, Mitchom partnered with Casa de Salud, a nonprofit that provides healthcare to the under and uninsured with a focus on immigrants. The Mental Health Collaborative, part of Casa de Salud, opened last March, helping to dramatically decrease the wait for mental health-related appointments from two years to two weeks. As a part of the incubator, Mitchom sees Casa de Salud clients and personal clients at the Collaborative. Many of Mitchom’s immigrant patients are battling trauma.
“They’re just like us,” said Mitchom. “We may not speak the same language and need an interpreter, but it actually works. It’s great. Sometimes the sessions are hard; sometimes they are moving. But working in this symbiotic relationship of medical and mental health is awesome.”
Just down the street is Mitchom’s childhood neighborhood called Tiffany— a small community bordering St. Louis University Hospital and Casa de Salud. He and his family now live on the same street he did as a child. Mitchom is also the neighborhood association board president of Tiffany.
“I really began to think about my skill set and my purpose. I felt called to do ministry, but maybe not in a traditional sense, and so I just really felt impressed to get involved in my community in whatever way I could,” reflected Mitchom.
As an advocate, he has been a part of projects including a needs assessment and championing tutoring and services for his neighborhood children.
During the school day, Mitchom now works at Saint Louis Priory School as their new director of equity and inclusion. In this newly created position, Mitchom marries his counseling background with his natural aptitude for creating a diverse and inclusive culture. It’s something that just seems natural considering his past experiences.
“I felt impressed to make a difference in the community where I live and where I worship—South City Church,” said Mitchom. “I need to live in a way that is consistent with what I am preaching. Ministry isn’t always in a church context behind a pulpit. We need many ministries, and in the context of systematic theology, we’re called to go everywhere to be His hands and feet. In a way, that’s what I feel like I’m doing.”