CREATURE COMFORTS — Behavioral Specialist Monica Guillen’s 18-month-old service animal Indira, an American Pit Bull Terrier, aids in Guillen’s treatment of clients at Rod’s House and The Young Adult Emergency Housing. “I have one young man that gets to play with her every day. It’s part of his treatment plan…it gets him outside, gets him communicating with us,” Guillen explained.

SUNNYSIDE — When Monica Guillen of Sunnyside interviewed and accepted a position with Rod’s House as a Behavioral Health Specialist in February, she didn’t expect the “social” to be taken out of “social work” as the pandemic effectively shut down the country.

“I was four-five weeks into the job and the pandemic hit and I started working from home,” Guillen explained.

Specializing in communicating with the youth at both Rod’s House in Yakima and The Young Adult Emergency Housing in Sunnyside, Guillen said of the pandemic, “It affected me and the fear of the unknown, not knowing what was next.”

With the insight of how the sudden changes impacted Guillen’s life, she used this point of view to understand her clients. “They’re missing that social, emotional connection. It must be horrifying.”

As some of the restrictions are being eased, Guillen has been working on finding the “new normal.” She described working one-on-one with her clients, “…navigating and trying the best that I can with the limited services.”

Guillen took the challenge head on and reached out through the phone and worked with her Program Director Brian Ahern to write a grant for behavioral health interns.

“The opportunity to have behavioral health interns from local universities is important to growing the social work profession,” Guillen explained.

Guillen believes anyone can start over. As a young woman, she received her General Equivalency Diploma (GED), however, through the support of her family she was able to further her education. Guillen now has a Master’s in Social Work and wants young people to know “They can still succeed. You can start over. It’s where you finish, not where you start.”

As for the young adults struggling during the social isolation of the pandemic, she urged for them to “Hang in there. There are people that will understand…at Rod’s House, if you’re experiencing homelessness, we’re there. We understand.”

The Young Adult Emergency Housing in Sunnyside is looking for storage room donation to store young people’s belongings while they are in the program to safely keep their belongings until they exit. Volunteers and meal partners are also needed.

Contact Operations and Volunteer Coordinator Maggie Treichler for donations at either or at 509-414-1690.

Elizabeth Sustaita can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 114 or email

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