Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Themis Gomes of Behaven Kids Is Helping To Change Our World

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“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” Everyone will fail eventually. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the reaction and the mindset that will determine how you overcome the failure and drive your success.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Themis Gomes.

Themis has extensive experience running companies and overseeing all aspects of their operations, from sales and marketing to finance and human resources. She is currently CEO of Behaven Kids, a provider of mental health services for children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, behavioral challenges and other mental health conditions.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have more than 20 years of firsthand experience as a directly impacted family member of a severely autistic 43-year-old brother-in-law. I directly witnessed and was affected by the challenges and growth of, my mother-in-law’s not-for-profit organization that she co-founded 40 years ago and still runs it. AMA implemented ABA in Brazil in 2000 and currently services over 350 children, adolescents and adults, and has become an international training and knowledge center. After many discussions at the dinner table, I now get to implement and see the results of many of the ideas and suggestions in a for-profit setting.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I think one of the most interesting stories was when a parent of a child that received services from Behaven Kids applied to work with us. She was so grateful for the impact on her child’s life that she wanted to be able to generate the same impact into other parent’s lives.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Once a competitor called me with all sorts of threats associated with a specific project the business was launching and was brought to their attention, which made me very nervous and thinking I did something wrong. Thankfully, I was surrounded by great mentors with great advice. One of the comments, which I’ll never forget, was to “Enjoy this moment of your heart beating and the redness of having upset someone. Competitors want you to think you are in trouble when actually you’ve hit a breakthrough. This is an indication that you’re doing it right and disrupting the market.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Despite popular misconceptions, autism is not the same as intellectual disability. While some individuals on the autism spectrum are cognitively and intellectually impaired, many possess average or superior intellectual abilities and extraordinary skills. Improved awareness and diagnostics have dramatically increase ASD diagnosis prevalence from 1.1% to 2.5% in less than 10 years. No cure exists for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. The goal is to maximize the child’s ability to function by reducing ASD symptoms and supporting development and learning. Early intervention during the preschool years can help a child learn critical social, communication and functional and behavioral skills which improve quality of life for the child and their families, especially as they move onto adulthood. The market in the state of Nebraska possesses tremendous need as the supply demand curve is heavily skewed toward high demand without the ability to meet such demand.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There really isn’t just one story to tell. I’ve talked with many parents desperate for help who don’t know what to do anymore. They cry on the phone with feelings of sadness and despair. As a mother there is nothing harder than wanting what is best for your child and feeling like you are incapable and miserably failing due to factors outside of your control. Being able to take these kids in and watch their progression and how that transforms the lives of their families is magical. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the same parent who called you crying for help walk out of the clinic so grateful after a couple of weeks.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Review legislation to be more effective. Some regulations and requirements are unclear as to the expectations for implementation and thus generate waste, and in some cases in the field, abuse of the lack of clarity relative to the intent of the law.

Ensure consistent standards of care across providers so the reputation of providers who meet such standards of care are not targets of misconceptions.

Review insurance regulation to ensure that the time and resources required to meet the health care laws are compensated for in the codes offered for billing purposes and related fees.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to drive results while inspiring your team to be better human beings and professionals. It is the ability to connect and translate the language spoken by different stakeholders so they can connect as a team. It is also the ability to keep oneself humble, listen to the different perspectives and adapt to the circumstances. Having lived in over 7 countries within a 13-year period, I’ve learned there is never just one solution to a problem or one path to a result. The environment that one is inserted in has a tremendous effect on an individual’s thinking, problem-solving and results.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“If you are the smartest person in the room, find another room.” There is nothing more influential in life than who you are surrounded by. It makes all the difference.

“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” Everyone will fail eventually. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the reaction and the mindset that will determine how you overcome the failure and drive your success.

“Emotions drive action.” Make sure you understand what you are feeling and why, allow yourself to feel it and then take a step back and calibrate before you act. It can save a lot of grief.

“It is in the dark that you find the light.” Embrace the hardness, get through it and you’ll come out much stronger.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I think access to education for developing countries would be one. There is no stronger resource on earth than human resource. Also free global internet so people can access that education.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You got to take the cookie when it is passing.” Don’t wait for opportunities in life to pass you by.

Is there a person with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why?

I’d like to have lunch with my great-grandfather who I never got the chance to meet. He immigrated from Syria on his own as a 13-year-old boy. Armed with candy recipes that he learned from his mom, he was able to impact lives of many families as well as his own for three generations with his entrepreneurial mindset. He died when my grandfather was just 18 and is still remembered for his generous heart and hard work.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Themis Gomes of Behaven Kids Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.