Lisa Maechling Debbeler has a new motivation in life—one that is quite different from her early days. After earning her bachelor’s degree in English in 1977, the determined grad went on to law school. Her drive continued in her law career, as she worked her way to the top, becoming vice president of legal affairs for Coca-Cola.
Then in 1987, she decided to take a different path—starting a family. She left her position at Coke to raise her three daughters, Nellie, Monica and Grace, with husband Mike, a partner at the Cincinnati law firm Graydon Head. What time she had available she dedicated to volunteering, offering her law expertise to various organizations. “I really started to enjoy the personal interactions I had with people,” she says.
Now with her girls all grown, Debbeler began a little soul searching in hopes of finding out what her next path would be. “I realized the things that motivated me were a lot different than what they were in the early days of my career,” says Debbeler. “What became exciting was talking about the real stuff in life—the problems people have, family troubles—that one-on-one interaction.”
With that, she began pursing a degree in pastoral counseling at the Athenaeum of Ohio. Pastoral counseling is a form of therapy that combines insights and principles of religion and theology with the modern behavioral sciences of psychiatry and psychology. As to why she chose pastoral counseling versus a typical counselor certification, Debbeler says, “I think the things that bring people into counseling are considered sacred. It’s about discovering that divine element that touches their lives and gives it meaning.”
Still a year away from graduation, Debbeler just finished an internship with IKRON (Integration of Knowledge and Resources for Occupational Needs) that took her to Cincinnati’s inner-city neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. IKRON provides employment and counseling services for the poor and homeless, many of whom have mental health issues. Debbeler met one-on-one with clients, helping them confront issues from the past, such as family relationships and domestic violence.
She chose IKRON because she knew it would be a personal challenge for her. “I had a real fear of working with the poor. I was afraid that they would reject me and think I wouldn’t have anything to offer.” She found out her fears were unfounded. In fact, she was overwhelmed by their acceptance and the amount of engagement she had with her clients. “I learned so much from them, so very much.”