Building the Future from Within

by Jessica Irven, MS, LRT/CTRS, CCLS
Adult + Supportive Programming Manager, Phoenix Society


Phoenix World Burn Congress 2017. From left to right: Tessa Mendel, Michelle Anderson, Alexi Pyles, Michelle Valladares.


The future of support begins with a diverse, engaged community. That’s why Phoenix Society invests in growing young leaders. Through leadership opportunities and programs for young adults, we’re building an engaged network of professionals and survivors who are immersed in a culture of support.

In our programs, young leaders have the opportunity to learn and inform the ways we provide service and shape burn support and advocacy. Building a community of transformational healing requires a diversity of experts. We live our mission by partnering with members of the burn community to lead together at every step, at every level of our functioning.

Nothing showcases this better than our leadership development programs.

Peer Mentors

Since 2012, expert participants have led the way as members of the Young Adult Workshop facilitator team at Phoenix World Burn Congress. While serving as role models to their peers, young adult burn survivors (18-25 years old) gain experience in therapeutic programming, share their wisdom, and strive for personal growth.

“I really enjoyed gathering people, creating a sense of community and fellowship amongst the group.” – Michelle Anderson, peer mentor

Become a Peer Mentor

  • Applications Open April – May 14
  • Open to burn survivors aged 18 – 25 as of 9/1/18 with past leadership experience
  • Positions are virtual but require adequate internet access and workspace to engage in tasks and virtual meetings.
  • 2-5 hours of work per week; applicants must commit to full attendance at Phoenix WBC, September 11-16, 2018 in Grand Rapids, MI.

“I made the effort to open up to people and it turn it inspired me to keep opening up and connecting to more burn survivors.” – Alexi Pyles, peer mentor


Our internship program was developed to provide opportunities for emerging young leaders to build foundational knowledge and practice to serve the burn community. Students and young professionals from a variety of burn support backgrounds had concrete professional development in therapeutic programming and service to burn survivors and family members.

Portrait of Michelle Valladares. She has long, curly brown hair, brown skin, and scars on her face.Michelle Valladares, BA, Intern

“I find myself learning more about the different dynamics of teamwork and continue to learn about adapting to my surroundings at all times. I feel blessed to have had this experience and to be able to network with amazing people who believe in a similar cause of helping the burn community to thrive and continue living. This has given me motivation to pursue a career in advocating for positive self-image, confidence and self-esteem.”


Tessa Mendel poses for a portrait. She has long straight hair and tan skin.Tessa Mendel, RN, Intern

“One of the most impactful aspects of the internship for me was meeting and chatting with members of the Phoenix Society Team and leaders in the burn community. Gaining a new perspective on the needs of burn survivors and families from experts in the field provided me with a basis to network and make connections to help achieve my overarching learning goals of the internship and professionally moving forward. I am so excited for future opportunities to continue to work with the organization and make a difference in the burn community.”

Introducing Fellowships

Our leadership opportunities continue to evolve: we’re recruiting three young professionals to serve in specialized Fellowships during 2018. Fellowships will transform our 20-week Internship into a customized 9-10 month training program for experts working in a broader definition of the burn support field. In return for a small stipend and a chance to build expertise, Fellows will become a functioning staff member and contribute to numerous projects in their area of interest.

Where Are They Now?

We keep in touch with our past leaders and continue serving. . . together! Phoenix leadership programs have helped springboard to other forms of leadership in the burn community. Recently featured in Burn Support Magazine and on our blog, past Peer Mentor Hyuen Kiki Vo is finishing her Masters of Social Work program and serving as an international inspiration for burn survivors. See her story here.

After serving as a peer mentor for two years, Branden Winters was recruited as a team member for Phoenix UBelong. Branden had a new opportunity to remain involved with Phoenix Society and extend his own skills and survivor story to some of the community’s youngest members.

In our programs, young leaders are empowered to be the voice they need to hear, be the face of the positivity they and other survivors need to see. . . and to take these and other opportunities to help lead for our community, together. 


Jess Irven’s expertise includes supportive and therapeutic programming and resources for those impacted by illness and injury. She has nearly 20 years of experience with youth, young adults, and families in various settings, including clinical health care (both medical and mental health). Her experience in the hospital inpatient, outpatient, and community settings includes burn center work and pediatric aftercare as well as workshops for young adults, families, burn camps, and retreats, both in the U.S. and abroad. She is passionate about empowering youth leaders and using a mix of purposeful activity, supportive interactions, and individual reflection and growth as part of the coping and healing process.