Lisa Fuentes, BSEd ’96, is owner and CEO of Focus Behavioral Associates, a family business supporting the behavioral needs of children and adults with autism, ADHD, developmental disabilities, and other behavioral disorders.
How did you become interested in serving people with developmental disabilities and their families?
After I earned my teaching degree in Early Childhood Education, I thought I would teach in classrooms up to third grade. I did that to some extent and also homeschooled my children, served as assistant director of the preschool at Highland Baptist Church, and helped my husband with his business. Later when I started substitute teaching in Robinson ISD schools, I spent time in special education programs. I loved these kids. It just stirred a deep interest in me. I was still working in the preschool for my church, and I began to wonder what the church was doing for children with developmental disabilities. When we went to preschool conferences, I would seek out the sessions about ministering to children with special needs.
What did it take to become certified in the specialty?
At that time, around 2008, there was a lot of attention on autism spectrum disorder in the media and at a national level. There was a federal grant offering a free master's program for teachers in rural schools, so I earned a fully funded MSEd, specializing in autism, from the University of North Texas. I graduated in 2010 with additional teacher certification in special education. I worked in school and clinical settings, including the Baylor Autism Research Clinic (BARC), to earn clinical hours and take my certification exam. I became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in 2012.
What range of services does Focus provide?
In addition to individual therapy, we consult for schools and the community. We see clients in our center, homes, schools, childcare centers and job sites. At all settings, we have children who receive part time and full-time therapy. We have an after-school social skills group. We provide a wide range of therapy.
Why did you decide to start a business rather than teaching in schools?
I did serve as a special education teacher at the middle school at Rapoport Academy from 2010-2012. In completing my clinical hours, I also worked in clinics. Instead of substituting in classrooms in Robinson, I was working as a contracted behavior specialist and autism specialist.
Once I was a BCBA, I was basically freelancing — consulting for schools, supervising at Baylor in the BARC, and providing in-home therapy and training for families. By myself, I could help about four families. So I wondered, "How much of a difference am I making?" I thought if we could create more of a center model and not spend as much time on the road, we could reach more families. I was working with a family who was seeing incredible results from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, which is what we were doing. The mom said that she wanted to go into the field and help other families, and that mom was my first employee.
Now we have 45 staff, and 38 are therapists. Growing so quickly was not necessarily my plan, but it has been a blessing. I have felt God leading this journey the whole time. The staff is remarkable, and it has nothing to do with me. It is all God's work.
How is your family involved in Focus Behavioral?
Because I had always been involved in my husband's business, we started out sharing space, with my mom as the receptionist, bookkeeper and claims person. We outgrew that in six months and took in more space. But we kept growing, and less than a year later moved down the street to 4,000 square feet. Now we are in a building with 18,000 square feet in Robinson, and we have a second location in Lake Travis. My husband serves as the facility manager and helps with financial oversight. My daughter is a BCBA supervisor, and my sister is our marketing consultant.
And the Baylor family is involved also, correct?
Most of my family went to Baylor. My husband, Robert, received his BS in biology in 1995. Our daughter, Andi Daniliuc, received her MSEd in Educational Psychology in the School of Education in 2017. And my sister, Julie Leverett, received her BBA from Baylor in 2000. We are proud to have won three family business awards from Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, including induction into the Texas Family Business Hall of Fame in 2019.
And of course, we maintain many connections to Baylor School of Education. Dr. Janet Bagby was my advisor as a freshman and has walked this journey with me; she also advised my daughter. Dr. Tonya Davis sends us students in the ABA master's program for their internships, and we also maintain connections with Kristen Padilla-Mainor and Dr. Stephanie Gerow on their research. It's a tight-knit community.
How has Focus had to adjust due to COVID-19 this spring?
The schools are not open, so families don't have a lot of support and we want to support them. Because we are medically essential, we have continued to operate in a way that keeps everyone safe and healthy. There are a lot of moving parts. We cannot hold our group sessions, and children play on the playground separately, with one child and one therapist. We have new procedures that eliminate the waiting room, and we have installed cameras so that supervisors can observe remotely. We’ve also been able to do telehealth, which is completely new to us. We have learned all kinds of technology platforms very quickly. It doesn't always replace face-to-face services, but we can still provide something effective.