Meet the Team | Project Heal   

Meet the Team | Project Heal

Dr. Aakash Shah, Medical Director of Project HEAL

Dr. Shah is a practicing emergency room doctor who specializes in addiction medicine and behavioral health. In addition to his clinical work, he seeks to bring healthcare approaches to issues – such as addiction and violence – that are traditionally understood through the lens of criminal justice. Dr. Shah’s focus is on building programs predicated on the understanding that, for far too many affected by these issues, the ultimate manifestation of justice is treatment not punishment.

What has drawn you to this work?

“The simple fact that it works. Studies show that violence is often cyclical with up to 40% of victims returning to the hospital with another violence injury and 20% dead of another violence injury within five years. Through programs like Project HEAL, we help break these cycles of violence and the lived experiences of our patients serve as a constant reminder of why we must continue to do this work day in and day out. For far too long, hospitals across the country have taken a “treat-and-release” approach to victims of violence. In doing so, they become quick at bandaging wounds but slow at healing communities. In conjunction with Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Project HEAL is demonstrating how that could change by listening to, learning from, and – slowly but surely – helping heal the communities it is fortunate enough to serve. To become a thread in the fabric of this incredible community, weaving together people and resources to reduce cycles of violence and help its victims thrive.”

lisa mcdermottLisa McDermott, LCSW, LCADC, Clinical Program Manager of Project HEAL

Lisa has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with Minor in Psychology from William Paterson University and a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University.  Have been working in the field for over 10 years, Lisa is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor and has experience working with adults diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance use disorders (settings include residential rehab, intensive outpatient, partial hospital, outpatient programs and private practice).

What has drawn you to this work?

“Most of the clients I’ve worked with in the past have experienced trauma- many due to violence. Many times, I felt powerless because these individuals had so many needs but there were very limited resources available to meet these needs. When I learned about this program, I immediately knew how important it would be to the community. In Monmouth County, the rates of violent crime are especially high in Asbury Park, Neptune Township, and Long Branch City. Violent injury is a recurrent problem so treat and release is not the answer here. Project HEAL is needed in the community so victims of violence can access wraparound services and resources, develop the tools and skills necessary to make positive changes in their lives, and reduce the rates of retaliation and revictimization to break the cycle of violence.

The HEAL in our name stands for “Help, Empower and Lead”. We have a multidisciplinary team who have a passion and dedication to help others. We want victims of violence to feel empowered to make positive changes in their lives and achieve their goals. We want to set an example of what commitment and service looks like and in turn, lead others to do the same.”

kristina leeKristina Lee, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor for Project HEAL

Kristina is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and  Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider in the State of New Jersey. She received her Undergraduate Degree in Social Worker at Ramapo College of New Jersey and was the first person in her family to go to college.  She received her Master’s in Social Work From Rutgers University, and has 9 years of experience in the mental health field working with children, adolescents, and adults. Her most recent experience was as a clinician at Trinitas Regional Medical Center’s Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry with individuals who were recently released from federal prison. These individuals suffered from a myriad of mental health issues related to various forms of trauma. Kristina also works part-time at a private psychotherapy practice in Hackettstown, NJ.

What has drawn you to this work?

“At the age of 9, I lost two close family friends to a murder/suicide. While this traumatic event left its mark, it also changed the trajectory of my life. I knew I needed to be a helper and a healer, because I knew the pain all too well. I wake up every morning on a mission, to use my personal pain and experience in the hopes of preventing another tragedy. I see this same pain in people from the community, and that’s why I believe it is so needed.

Humans need choices and options. We are social creatures by nature and are not meant to do life alone. Project HEAL offers a safe haven of resources, but more importantly a team of caring hearts and ears that listen. We want the community to build upon its own strengths to become safer and healthier for everyone who lives here. Everyone deserves the feeling of safety and security, while ultimately healing from past wounds to prevent future ones.

I would like to see Project HEAL achieve a sense of unity and partnership in the community. We are not here to change the community, we are here to help others help themselves to take back their community and make it a place they are proud of. The “Help, Empower, and Lead” are nothing but fancy words without the support of the community.”

randy scalesRandy Scales, Case Management Supervisor for Project HEAL

Randy has an extensive background and experience with assisting individuals through difficult times while working in the managerial sector of the customer service industry.

What has drawn you to this work?

“I understand the cycle of violence whether it’s gang or domestic is prevalent in our community and there is a need to break that chain. I feel our communities are in a tragic state, and the family and friends within our community are subjected to traumatic experiences at an alarming rate. We need to understand this is not normal. I continually see this and I want to assist in making that change and breaking that cycle of violence of traumatized people in our community. I am familiar with the issues that plague our community since living in cities such as Newark, NJ, Washington D.C. and currently in Neptune, NJ. We need these particular services in our community to provide individuals an alternative and help them understand what they are going through is not the norm. I would like to have Project HEAL to be the hammer that breaks the chain of violence within our community.”

Valerie JohnsonValerie Johnson, Clinical Advocate/Nurse Navigator for Project HEAL

Valerie has a background as a Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse, Certified Forensic Nurse Examiner, and a College Professor.

What has drawn you to this work?

“I have immense compassion and the ability to care for people holistically in times of need. A patient’s needs are not only physical related conditions, but mental as well. This program is needed in the community to provide needed support services to everyone who may be a survivor or a loved one of a survivor of violence. Everybody should be afforded the opportunity to seek the care they need, and that is why Project HEAL is essential treating those affected by community violence.”

Krista PeoplesKrista Peoples, LPN, MSW, LSW, Clinical Therapist for Project HEAL

Born and raised in the Asbury Park/Neptune area and a single parent of three children. Krista obtained her LPN in 1998 and continued working as a nurse until that career ended in 2012. Graduating that same year with her BA, Krista went on to eventually complete her Master’s in Social Work in December 2018.

What has drawn you to this work?

“My start in the helping profession started many years ago as a nurse’s aide after helping to care for my grandmother. I have always had a passion for helping people and standing up for those who have had a difficult time standing up for themselves, and that is exactly why I think Project HEAL is much needed in this community. I believe we can serve as a bridge to those members in the community who have historically been underrepresented and underserved.

Project HEAL will be able to provide them with or steer them in the right direction to receive the necessary tools and resources to begin turning their lives around. Ultimately, I would like to see this program provide members in the community with more opportunities. More opportunities for vocational and job training, opportunities for quality health care and medical follow-up, and lastly, more opportunities for mental and emotional healing.”

Kristen RyanKristen Ryan LAC, Clinical Therapist for Project HEAL

Kristen earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Villanova University. Kristen worked as an intern at Child Guidance Resource Centers facilitating social skills groups for children with autism, completed her Master’s level internship at Recovery Centers of America working specifically with their men’s trauma program, and also spent a year volunteering as a tutor at Graterford Correctional Institution for their Prison Literacy Program. Working as a research assistant throughout her undergraduate and graduate programs, Kristen was involved in qualitative research projects on various topics including human trafficking, relational trauma, anti-bias education, and international students on college campuses.

What has drawn you to this work?

“I am passionate about helping others, mental health, and advocacy and this field is a great combination of all three. I have had positive experiences in therapy myself and I hope to give others that opportunity for growth as well. I believe Project HEAL is needed in this community and many others in order to promote post-traumatic growth in those who have been survivors of violence, as well as provide them with any resources they may need. It is important to make early-intervention mental health services more accessible to survivors in order to reduce the chance of retaliation or reinjury, stop the cycle of violence, and welcome healthy individuals back into their community. I hope that this program helps to decrease the rate of community violence. I also hope that this program will not only help our clients heal on an individual level, but also at the community level by advocating to improve any circumstances that serve as barriers.”

Tracy A JonesTracy A. Jones, Program Secretary for Project HEAL

Tracy has a AA in Business Administration, and has lived locally for many years with family roots within the community.

What has drawn you to this work?

“I live in Neptune and I know there is a need. I attended the local schools growing up. I graduated from Neptune High School in 1983. In 1997, I purchased a home right down the street from my family home (my mother still lives there). I never even considered it as a bad neighborhood. Growing up we knew everyone on the block and we played outside all day during the summer. We Jumped rope, raced, played hopscotch, dodgeball, softball, kickball, jacks, and we rode our bikes. We had so much fun. Yes, the neighborhood has changed. We have a corner store at the top of the block with a park right across the street and a lot of people were hanging out. We started to hear gunshots frequently and then someone was shot and killed on our street. It was an eye opener and definitely scary. It was the first time I didn’t feel safe on my street. Although it’s only part of the solution, this is a great program and we need it to help save our future. I have two daughters and I want my 4 grandchildren to have safe streets so they can run and play like I did growing up. They’re really missing out!”

Christopher KuhnChristopher Kuhn, Content & Outreach Coordinator for Project HEAL

Chris has a background in Digital Marketing and Videography, graduating from Stockton University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and also has a Mini-BA In Digital Marketing from Rutgers Business School.

What has drawn you to this work?

“Aside from my qualifications as a Communications Specialist, I come from a broken home of mental illness and drug use, so I have always had immense empathy for those who struggle with trauma. People carry scars that follow them throughout life, emotional and physical, and sometimes they just need an extra hand to make it through when coping with that. I believe that lack of opportunity and underfunded social programs have stifled young men and women from having a place to turn to. I believe coming from a broken home and a violent community can significantly increase the chances of somebody being susceptible to violent tendencies, criminal behaviour and gang life. You have to give people the tools and options to choose, give them empowerment to follow the path they want and try and help remove those roadblocks along the way. So often, today’s victim becomes tomorrow’s victimizer, so if we can intervene before things reach that point, it will be a step in the right direction.”

We use cookies to improve your experience. Please read our Privacy Policy or click Accept.