MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – As a nurse and social worker, Marquette’s Melissa Copenhaver recognizes that we can’t separate mind, body and spirit. As the owner of Suunta Integrative Health, the services are designed to address early traumas that follow children into adulthood and the influence of a high stress society.

“I actually think I selected nursing originally when I came to Northern as my major because so many people in my family were in the healthcare setting so I figured if I was going to have anything to contribute at the holiday dinners that I needed to head in that direction,” said Copenhaver. “In that undergrad program I realized that med-surg, hospital based nursing was not the type of nursing that I really was passionate about.”

That led Melissa into public health, which opened her eyes to mental health needs.

“I can remember working in a family planning clinic one time,” said Copenhaver. “That’s when we saw a lot of teens coming in for pregnancy prevention and STD treatment. I remember a teen coming in and she had obvious cuts on her arm and I realized I had no idea what to say to her. I knew it was something that I should address, but I had no idea how to address it.”

Melissa says those are the needs that often no one wants to talk about but are very prevalent in our communities.

“She just does like so many different things,” said Courtney Jukkala, Mental Health Therapist at Suunta. “She’s got her hand in so many different things in the community. I think that she’s an excellent asset for our community, just in the work that she does both with mental health, her nursing degree that she has. She teaches at Northern so she’s working with students there, impacting students there, she has her own clients. I think that’s one of the amazing things about Melissa is that not only does she like… obviously she’s my supervisor in the work that I do, but she’s also there doing the work that she’s supervising us on. So she’s directly in it, impacting people that way.”

Not only has Melissa made a difference in opening a clinic that addresses a great need in the community, but she’s always looking for ways to help more people.

“If someone is sexually assaulted, the only way opportunity they would have to get a sexual assault exam done and to have the forensic evidence collected is through the emergency department,” said Copenhaver. “It’s very had for emergency departments to make sure that they have trained nurses. They’re called sexual assault nurse examiners or SANE nurses. It’s very hard for them to maintain nurses that are trained and have them on staff when someone presents a need, a sexual assault exam. So I’ve been working to bring training up to the U.P. because it’s a 40-hour training and so if we had nurses interested in it, they would need to typically travel for that training and so we’ve brought that up twice and that has really kind of grown. It’s allowed people a voice to kind of talk about that this is a concern in our community. 

Melissa’s efforts also include starting a non-profit to help victims of sexual assault.

“Two years ago we did the in initial steps to start the non-profit,” said Copenhaver. “It’s called Trace Holistic and so the intent with Trace Holistic is to provide opportunities so that nurses who are interested in doing SANE can get trained, can maintain their competencies and that our hope is to provide spaces across the U.P. so not just in Marquette but starting in Marquette where individuals can seek a sexual assault nurse exam in a community based setting because emergency departments… it would be very hard for someone to come forward for an exam, it can be even more difficult if they have to walk into an emergency department say this is what happened to me.”

By being nominated for the Remarkable Women of the Upper Peninsula contest by one of her very own clients, Melissa is changing lives in the community every day.

“In touching so many different people, I think she just has so many different tools and so much knowledge to be able to help her clients and support them and really make a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” said Jukkala.

“I do the work I do just because it’s my passion so it’s not something I’m looking for someone to recognize so certainly when someone does, it really means so much,” said Copenhaver.