We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Yelba Maria Carrillo and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dr. Yelba Maria, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I was finishing up the Masters in Social Work program at USC and was completing an internship at a legal firm assisting survivors of domestic violence. Many of the clients I was meeting with were younger in age and so engaging them in mental health services was a challenge. I noticed the generational gap between traditional mental health interventions and the clients we were serving. I thought to myself, “How can I make mental health services more appealing?”. Around that time I started envisioning my ideal organization- accessible, affordable ( if not free), and modern- all of the things that I would want in an organization where I receive services. Through my non-profit organization, Project Caged Birds, Inc., I set out to break the stigma around mental health and therapy and to make it relatable and accessible for everyone, especially people of color.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I built Project Caged Birds, Inc. (PCB Inc.) from the ground up. Every part of it, the fun and the challenging, has been a learning lesson. There were many times that I doubted myself, I wondered if I was being overly ambitious. But, those hard times were often overshadowed by the grateful and humbling conversations I have had with people who have participated in our programs. Their gratitude makes it all the hard work worth it all. PCB Inc. is not your traditional non-profit and I think at the beginning, 6 years ago, mental health was still a taboo subject and even more so sexual assault. One of the many things that we promote is that it is okay to embrace your sexuality regardless of the trauma you may have endured. Your trauma doesn’t define you. We also made it okay to discuss things such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD by normalizing them through our social media posts. At first, that rubbed many people the wrong way. Years later, I’m happy to see that many social media platforms are promoting that self-love!

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a native Angeleno, I would definitely kick off the tour with a game at Dodger Stadium. There’s nothing like a cold beer, hot dog, and baseball game in LA. For the perfect photo op, I would take them to Griffith Park for the views and a quick hike. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. in the heart of Boyle Heights. There are several POC-owned businesses, restaurants, and creative spaces in that area worth checking out!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Our success would not be possible with the support of our volunteers working behind the scenes assisting with engagement, events, and social media. Generous donors have contributed to sustaining our free programming. And last, but not least- a special shoutout to our social media followers who have supported us since day one.

Instagram: @projectcagedbirds

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/ymcarrillo

Other: email: ymcarrillo@projectcagedbirds.org

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