Who We Are
Willows in the Wind is a non-profit founded in 2007 by parents Jan Rao and Robin Sacks, whose teens had attended residential therapeutic programs. They saw a need for a safe meeting place where parents of adolescents with behavioral and/or mental health issues could share their stories, glean resources, feel heard and understood.
Over a decade later, Willows in the Wind continues to offer monthly parent support groups, parent coaching, parent education workshops, transition planning and after-care support.
Our mission is to offer peer-to-peer assistance to parents seeking support for their teen or young adult with behavioral, mental health and/or substance abuse challenges.
We work with parents who have a teen or young adult who is:
Experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues
Accessing therapeutic support at home
Has participated in a therapeutic treatment program
Transitioning out of residential treatment
Meet the Team
Jan Rao, Executive Director & Founder
As an alumni parent of a therapeutic boarding school graduate, Jan recognized the need for community support and education around therapeutic placement. In 2007, she founded Willows In The Wind. Through Willows, she created a network to help families gain a support system, turning what could be a negative and isolating experience into a constructive and educational process. She strives to help parents reinvent themselves by taking the time to focus on their own needs and enrich their families’ relationships in a healthy, positive way. Jan lives with her husband Michael and is the proud mom of two adult daughters.
Becky Perelli, Support Group Facilitator
Becky Perelli, RN, MS, is currently the director of Student Health Services at West Valley College where she not only keeps the clinic going even when financing is short, but also writes grants for extra funding to improve the services already provided. As a single mom with three children and a full-time career, Becky took on the role of family case manager when her eldest son needed intervention at age 13. Looking back, she realizes how helpful it would have been to have the support of an organization like Willows, and is now happy to be part of this committed team at Willows.
Suzan Miller, Support Group Facilitator
As a parent of a graduate from a Therapeutic Boarding School who still struggles with why she was sent away, Suzan and her husband helped start the parents group in 2005 that would evolve into Willows in the Wind. Helping parents to deal with the pain and the shame from those years continues to energize her and her husband, as well as keeping them humble when they recall that we parents are part of an underground support group no one ever wants to be a part of. Learning about, and setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with our children, our friends and co-workers enriches all of us. Bringing awareness of struggling teens to educators across the country is of vital importance to improving how schools deal with our kids and how our kids deal with life.
Sarah Mackay Lynch,
Support Group Facilitator
Sarah is a certified parent coach with Willows in the Wind and has her own practice, Sarah MacKay Coaching. The mother of a launching 20 year old, she has been through the residential treatment journey with her own family. Sarah first joined Willows in 2015, seeking advice and resources: Grateful beyond words for the community she found there, Sarah joined the Willows team as a support group leader (San Rafael) in 2017. Sarah is also affiliated with Oakland-based Family Sanity support group and teaches the Family Connections Course offered through NEABPD. Sarah is an Advisory member of the Willows board.
Parent Engagement Leader
Patty Juergens is one of the facilitators for the Oakland Willows in the Wind support group. She lives in Oakland and has 3 children. She has helped many Willows families get services for their children through the school districts, using the IEP process. She is also familiar with using the Adoption Assistance Program to obtain treatment for struggling kids. She is grateful for the support that each attendee brings to our meetings and recognizes that most often, the best advice for difficult situations comes from fellow parents.
Parent Engagement Leader
Jennifer is a therapeutic education consultant; her practice JET ED Consulting offers resources for out-of-home placements when local care has not yielded healthy recovery. The mother of two teenage boys one with autism who needed residential care in high school, she brings great empathy and experience to the Willows meetings in San Rafael. Jennifer is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of San Francisco School of Law.
Laura Hennigan, Administrative Manager
Laura supports Willows in the Wind part-time by maintaining and updating monthly communications, as well as consolidating and organizing the parent database, consumable resources for parents, and more. She has an extensive background in health care, research and non-profit work. She is mom to two human children and one pup.
Anne is a former tennis teaching professional turned veteran eBay seller. She has been an active San Rafael Willows Group participant for the past four years as her family navigated their son’s challenging teenage years. A self proclaimed “Warrior Mom”, Anne has blogged about this personal journey (with her son’s permission and knowledge) and shares stories and experiences of Wilderness, Residential Treatment and After Care so others can see that they are not alone.
Willows was there for me many years ago when our then young teenager was in residential treatment. Willows was the ONLY place that I felt I could tell my story without judgment. I received great comfort from being in the company of others who loved their children but had come to the end of their emotional resources and ability to keep their loved ones safe. Thank you, for creating this safe space. Our teen did the hard work, and so did we. Soon to be 25 years old, she is living and working in New York and connected almost daily with all the members of our nuclear family. We celebrate the successes.
How do you tell your beautiful daughter she cannot live with you? It was the worst week of my life. With the wonderful support of Willows and the staff at the school, we got through it. I know it will be a life-long challenge, but with wonderful groups like Willows, all you have to do is reach out for help. It is there.
—Sue, Willows parent
In my experience, Willows is a group of very caring, thoughtful, smart, and dedicated parents who have all dealt with extraordinarily difficult/risky parenting challenges. It is so helpful to meet other parents who have been in the same boat and to share information and support with them.
—Transitions Workshop participant
The caliber of speakers chosen by Willows has been excellent. I hope all the participants realize what a gift this is.
—Transitions Workshop participant