Hélène Onserud’s exquisite sensitivity, perseverance and unwavering commitment to the children, teens, and families of Sunset Park have shaped programs at the Center for Family Life and beyond for the past 30 years. From her beginnings as a PS 1 Art Specialist and parent program coordinator, to her decades of leadership as Community School Project Director, she has creatively combined her background in art, sewing, fashion design, and acrobatics with her passion for social group work, youth development and community building. Under her leadership, generations of children and families have been enriched by high quality afterschool, evening and summer programs.
Hélène was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and came to New York in her early 20s, taking classes in improvisational dance and acrobatics while making a living as a seamstress and dressmaker. It was at this time that she had her first introduction to social group work, a method of social work that aims to promote individual growth and social change in the context of a group experience. This life changing experience inspired Hélène to study and devote herself to the discipline and join the staff of the Center for Family Life (CFL, a program of the SCO Family of Services) in 1985, where she has made a deep and lasting imprint on the Sunset Park Community.
Through her deep respect for individuals and their potential, Hélène has nurtured the strengths and encouraged the growth of countless participants and staff, building their capacity for leadership and supporting them in their ongoing personal and professional goals. She has empowered many teens to be creative young adults and an impressive number of her former participants and supervisees have come up CFL’s “ladder of leadership” and now direct and supervise school based programs.
Beyond her work at CFL, Hélène is recognized as a local, national, and international leader who has been at the forefront of social group work training. She is a key contributor to the Beacon initiative and has shared her practice wisdom in an article published by the Youth Development Institute promoting the use of social group work in the field of youth development. She has been engaged in a professional exchange with colleagues in Montreal who are integrating social group work with sports teams, and had led a citywide workforce development initiative to train program supervisors and line staff in this methodology. Hélène holds a Masters in Social Work from Hunter College.