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Honoring the Lanetta Wahlgren UCLA Internship Program
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The National Alliance on Mental Illness Westside Los Angeles (NAMI WLA) held its first in-person Mental Health Gala since 2019 on Friday, May 12, at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. The event celebrated NAMI WLA advocates and programs fighting the stigma of mental illness and providing support across the Westside Los Angeles community. Awards were given out to those whose extraordinary actions serve NAMI WLA’s mission, including Lanetta Wahlgren, who received the Heart of Advocacy Award for her contributions in providing support for future mental health leaders through the Lanetta Wahlgren UCLA Internship Program. 

“Being able to foster the next generation of mental health advocates through this internship—to see, hear and feel the impact this real-world experience has had—and to inspire in others a lifelong passion for this mission, enriches my own life because it’s clear how much it has improved the lives of so many people,” Wahlgren said during her acceptance speech. “This event is a symbol as much as it is a celebration of hope and of a bright future.” 

The Lanetta Wahlgren UCLA Internship Program is offered to UCLA students of diverse majors, ranging from psychology to disability studies, and allows students to receive course credit through the program. Interns perform a wide range of duties for NAMI WLA, including administrative work, outreach, presentations, and operating NAMI’s warmline, among others. 

The Internship Program builds upon the Lanetta Wahlgren Fund, which has supported the operational and programmatic needs of NAMI WLA since 2019. These are made possible through ongoing support from the Lowell Milken Family Foundation (LMFF), who in 2021 made a gift of $1.2 million to catalyze the expansion and enhancement of NAMI WLA’s signature programs. Since its inception, the Lanetta Wahlgren UCLA Internship Program has expanded both in size and in scope. One former UCLA psychology student, Elizabeth Stephens, has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the internship. Back in 2018, before the Lanetta Wahlgren Internship was created, Stephens completed a three-quarter long internship through NAMI WLA. She returned to NAMI WLA in the summer of 2019, shortly after the new internship’s creation, and now serves as NAMI WLA’s Program Director. 

“This internship completely transformed my time in undergrad,” Stephens said. “I really wanted to find a space to channel my passion for mental health, and I wasn’t finding that in the classroom. I am forever grateful for my time as an intern, because that’s how I found NAMI Westside LA and my community.”

In her role as Program Director, Stephens says that one of her favorite responsibilities is supervising and advising incoming Lanetta Wahlgren interns. In the few years since its creation, the internship has expanded from having one or two interns per quarter to now having six or more. Stephens has also watched as the internship’s offerings have diversified and become more specialized over the last four years. When she was an intern, her duties ranged from administrative work and outreach to presentations and onboarding; now, students are able to take peer to peer classes, learn how to facilitate such classes, and partake in other programs like Ending the Silence, a school program designed to give middle and high-school students, teachers, and parents the opportunity to learn about mental health, among other opportunities. 

Stephens continues to teach the peer class, and says that it’s incredibly rewarding watching previous students and interns begin to grow and teach the courses themselves. In fact, being able to interact with both those who work for NAMI WLA and those it serves was one key factor in Stephens’ joining the organization. “It’s one of the only internships where you get to sit down and talk with someone,” she said. “It’s a really unique experience to not have your degree yet, and be able to gain real-life experience in the mental health field.”

Ending the Silence is another facet of NAMI WLA that Lanetta Wahlgren interns receive person-to-person experience from. The educational program is a free 50-minute session designed for middle and high school students, where students learn about mental health conditions through a presentation, short videos, and a personal testimony from a NAMI staff member. 

Another former intern, Marian Alino, who currently serves as NAMI WLA’s Communications and Program Coordinator, had a particularly impactful experience with Ending the Silence. “I was fortunate enough to see an Ending the Silence presentation in person,” she said, referencing the beginning of her internship in January of 2020. “At that point I realized that I am so proud to be a part of this organization, seeing the impact that the presentation had on such young kids.” 

Although Alino was able to experience part of her internship in the office and in-person, the COVID-19 pandemic sent NAMI WLA, along with large swaths of the country, into a virtual space. Ruby Lake, a former Lanetta Wahlgren intern, was able to respond and assist with the office’s warmline during the pandemic—a time when mental health was brought to the fore. During this, Lake began to understand how a non-profit works as well, and the important of education, programming, and fundraising. It is because of this experience during her internship that she now serves as the CalHOPE—a crisis support group who awarded NAMI WLA a grant to expand their outreach—and Operations Coordinator. 

“As NAMI has expanded their team to be a part of FEMA’s response to COVID-19 and disaster relief program, I’ve taken on a new role, transitioning out of my internship to managing a team of crisis counselors,” Lake explained. “I’m unbelievably grateful for this internship and the doors that it has opened for me in the past year. It laid the groundwork for my future in the field of mental health. It showed me what I was capable of and it allowed me to be a part of a wonderful and uniquely caring and kind community.”

The internship both prepares interns for future professional roles and continuously draws them back to NAMI WLA; Dolce Vita Martin-Moreno, a senior at UCLA and current intern, agrees. “The internship has 100% prepared me for the real world,” she said. She began the program in August 2022, and says that she will continue to volunteer for NAMI WLA once her internship ends at the conclusion of the winter quarter. During her current internship, Martin-Moreno has been responsible for creating presentations for middle and high school students in NAMI WLA affiliated districts. These presentations are aimed at discussing stigmas surrounding mental illness, warning signs, and how to get help. 

“Ultimately, I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to have this experience,” said Martin-Moreno. “They give you the perfect balance between hand holding and allowing you to work on your own.” 

Alongside boasting robust training, hands-on experience, and direct positive impact, NAMI WLA is an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness—long considered the largest and most widely recognized mental health non-profit in the nation. NAMI WLA offers free education programs, support services, and advocacy across Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Culver City, Hollywood, Malibu, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Playa del Rey, Santa Monica, Topanga, Venice, Westwood and West Hollywood.

For more information on NAMI WLA, visit their website at To get involved either as a volunteer or as a candidate for the Lanetta Wahlgren UCLA Internship Program, visit their contact page

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