Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Sometimes it’s not education that shapes our future careers, but rather our natural abilities and personal experiences. While Karen Messina has attended four different colleges and completed a number of training programs, the bulk of her success has come from her compassionate nature and ability to turn around misfortune.
Karen Messina is a Paralegal, Certified Life Strategies Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach, and owner of Karen Messina Life Coaching. Unlike with therapy, Karen sees life coaching as an opportunity to mentor clients. She explains, “If you go to a counselor, you pay your fee and sit for your hour. You don’t typically get the opportunity to email, text or contact them between visits.” She goes on to explain that for victims of domestic violence, her main clientele, not making contact between visits can cause damage: “I can give advice and help people through people their situations, instead of just letting them figure it out themselves; I talk people off a ledge.” Her primary goal is to assign tasks so that clients can make progress and move forward.
Karen grew up in a Roman-Catholic family right here in Rochester. She describes her childhood as great, and her parents as compassionate, yet strict. Her perspective changed when she got married— “too early—” to a man who was an abuser. Karen identifies this as the primary incident that initiated her want to help victims of domestic violence. Being the woman that she is, Karen was able to get out of her unhealthy relationship, and move forward with her life. However, it wasn’t until about twenty years after ending her relationship that she reached out to Alternatives for Battered Women (now Willow Domestic Violence Center) to begin helping women in need of assistance.
As a Paralegal, Karen was able to assist women coming out of divorces, focusing on abused women. Pairing her legal and personal background, she could explain what the Judge and attorneys would expect while connecting and relating to the women. She says, “I got them, because I was there. The judge goes home at 5, the attorney goes home at 5, but what do you do at 7pm when you need someone?” Karen made herself available for women in need, which strengthened her relationship and success in working with them. While pursuing a degree in Paralegal Studies at Bryant and Stratton College, Karen recognized her success with this niche group of clients. During an internship with a lawyer working with Volunteer Legal Services Project, Karen’s first client connection was formed— and was recognized highly by her supervisor. This was the “aha!” moment for Karen’s legal career.
Karen worked with a number of women through domestic violence centers, but met one in particular who reminded her of herself. Together the two started an organization called “Offspring Charities.” All under one roof, the organization helped women with computer training, resume writing, getting into— or back into— school, childcare and more. Karen explains, “I wanted to help women get back on their feet and do what they needed to do to move on from being a victim.” A large part of Karen’s work included offering support groups for women, though she found she didn’t have to do much other than get the women together. “They would help each other,” she recalls. Karen goes on to say, “These women were so good at compiling information and keeping things in order. They didn’t need my help, just a safe space.”
In order to further her abilities and be “taken more seriously” and receive formal training for what she was already doing, Karen was certified as a Life Strategies Coach while running Offspring Charities. Though the group is now dissolved, Karen continues her work through her private business, and is now additionally certified in Stress Management. “Stress is a big part of the picture,” Karen explains. In her home office, she helps clients work through the physical and psychological effects of stress, and is starting to focus specifically on how stress affects relationships. Karen, herself, manages her stress by creating a relaxing environment for herself. This means slow breathing, meditation and yoga, meditative music/podcasts and oil diffusers. “I always have my diffuser going at night, and there’s no TV in my room. If you fall asleep in that state, you’ll wake up in that state,” Karen affirms.
As a teenager, Karen’s career goal was to be a “super helper,” which lead her to a career at Strong before moving into the legal world. Her natural ability to listen and offer rational advice paired with her education and experience is what has lead to her numerous success stories. Karen adds: “It’s very fulfilling.” Karen was also the founding President of Bryant and Stratton Alumni Association and received the first Rochester Community Champion Award. She continues to give talks at the college and for businesses on domestic violence and stress management.
Join Karen Messina, CLSC, CSMC for her Stress Management series here at Rochester Brainery. The first class, "Stress Management for You" (April 19) will focus on combating your own stressors. Karen explains, “Once a person gets to a point where they’re whole and they have their stress under control, it’s easy to control the stress around you.” This will lay the foundation for "Stress and How it Affects You and Your Partner" (May 3) and "Stress and People in Your Life" (May 17), though they can all be taken separately.
Words and photos by Olivia Bauso