First Person interview with Benicia Hernandez
Benicia Hernandez wears a number of hats that keep her on the go. The licensed professional counselor, substance abuse treatment practitioner and certified life coach has owned and operated Life’s Journey, a mental health agency in Norfolk, since 2016. She also works one day a week as a counselor for NASA’s employee assistance program, a job she earned through years of experience with the military. Last year, Gill decided to share her knowledge and life skills through a website and blog, “Best Life by Benicia.” Read on to learn more about Benicia through her firstperson interview with Inside Business.
Benicia Hernandez Gill wears a number of hats that keep her on the go.
The licensed professional counselor, substance abuse treatment practitioner and certified life coach has owned and operated Life’s Journey, a mental health agency in Norfolk, for the past three and a half years. She also works one day a week as a counselor for NASA’s employee assistance program, a job she earned through years of experience with the military.
Last year, Gill decided to share her knowledge and life skills through a website and blog, “Best Life by Benicia.” In her introduction on the website, readers learn Gill loves to travel and the person she most admires is Michelle Obama. Her blog includes topics such as “The Importance of Living Your Truth,” “Empowerment Tools for the 21st-Century Woman,” “Creating a Zen Zone at Home and at Work” and “Managing Stress in an Anxious World.”
“Life is a journey. We have to be proactive about addressing our mental health and not lose time — not lose precious years of our lives,” she said. “That’s really what I preach. We’re all given this wonderful journey called life and we shouldn’t take it for granted.”
USING HER LIFE EXPERIENCE
As a business owner and mother of four children ranging in age from 6 to 25, Gill has experience in tackling the aforementioned topics. She had her first child at 16, facing the challenges of working and earning degrees while also raising a family.
“I don’t see life as challenges. There are always learning lessons to grow from. I’m patient and diligent. I have a lot of endurance and determination. Whatever the issue is, I tackle it and find a solution. I come from a very solution-focused perspective … (I say,) ‘What is the issue and what do we need to do to figure it out and how can we move forward?’”
As CEO and clinical director of Life’s Journey, Gill manages a team of 32 support workers who help clients with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and other diagnoses. Their mission is to have clients confront their struggles and provide them with mental health skill-building services, crisis stabilization, substance abuse services and counseling.
“Our agency links with other agencies to help find community resources for our clients for whatever their needs are whether it’s housing or applying for public benefits,” Gill said. “We’re kind of a gateway to help them learn the skills needed to be able to function on a day-to-day basis.”
Gill recently conducted a workshop called “How to Live a Balanced Life” at Tidewater Community College. As she continues to grow her business and brand, Gill seeks to add similar speaking engagements to her commitments. And, as the business continues to grow, she is scouting locations for a second site.
“There are so many people who are struggling and losing days, weeks, months, years, decades of their life because they won’t address their mental health issues,” she said. “When you don’t address your mental health issues, it not only impacts your life. It impacts many lives around you, your family.”
Not everyone seeks mental health services but they do need motivation and guidance. That’s where life coaching comes in.
“I did life coaching because I want to develop my business and brand beyond the mental health capacity … It lends the ability to take it from a different angle, really focusing on empowering, guiding, making decisions in your life that lead to a change in your life.”
Where does she find her inspiration? “I surround myself with like-minded women. I have friends that are very important to me because we equally share our stress with one another. We’re supportive of one another. They are super motivating to me. We equally look up to each other and find strength in one another.”
“We have so many obligations and expectations. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s always a balance in my own life, and I’m always encouraging others to reevaluate their lives and find that balance because the reality of it is, if you’re going to be successful, you can’t work in slow motion. I’ve never worked in slow motion.
“There are a lot of things you have to be juggling and delegating. My desire is to be successful. There are a lot of things that I have to balance at many different times.”
WORKING AT NASA
“What I love about it is that it’s the opposite end of the spectrum of what I do on a day-to day-basis. The clients that we deal with (at Life’s Journey) are impoverished. They have every type of struggle: mental illness, homelessness and poverty. So, I’m very fulfilled in that aspect.
“But I’m equally fulfilled being able to counsel Ph.D.-types and engineers because the reality is that it doesn’t matter if you have money, we all have problems. We all struggle emotionally. We all need help.”
CONNECTED TO FAMILY
“My family is all tied into the business. My sister helps me run my business. She is my program manager. My oldest daughter just graduated from Norfolk State with a bachelor’s in the social work program. We’re all invested in Life’s Journey. It’s really a family investment.”
FROM BUSCH GARDENS TO BALI
Gill enjoys traveling and, in addition to places in the United States, has visited Egypt and Dubai and plans to go to Bali and Australia in the near future.
“When I was a child, our vacation was going to Busch Gardens. I come from very, very humble beginnings. My father was just very committed to survival.
“I’m trying to instill in my children that there’s so much more in life. Work is very important, but there’s also a life that you should be enjoying, life satisfaction that you should be pursuing. Exposing them to different things in life allows us to stand and grow and further develop.”